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Why we opted to be stay-at-home mothers

Living
 They have given up their heels and power suits, and put their careers on hold to stay home and look after their children [Courtesy]

The last few years have seen more and more women opt out of their well-paying corporate jobs to stay home and look after their children. They have given up their heels and power suits, and put their careers on hold to stay home and look after their children and the family home.

While not everyone may get the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mum, a good number of women would grab that chance given the opportunity. Eve spoke to three women to find out what it is like to be a stay-at-home mum.

Melissa Wakhu, 40, mother of four (12, 10, eight and six):

Stay-at-home mum since 2009

Did you always want to be a stay-at-home mum?

I never planned to be a stay-at-home mum, considering I graduated with a First Class degree in computer science. I had a promising career as a consultant at Deloitte, and the sky was the limit. But things took a different turn when I became a mother. I have worked with children since I was a teenager. I taught Sunday school, organised children’s concerts and children’s camps every holiday, and I observed that children with present parents - not necessarily stay-at-home - seemed more confident, secure and sure of themselves. I admired this, and my husband and I decided we would both be present parents when we had children.

 Melissa Wakhu [Courtesy]

What happened next?

My first pregnancy happened when I needed to dedicate more time, effort and all of myself to my career. The pay was good, and so were the perks, but the job demanded more time and effort from me. After careful thought and prayer, I had clarity that my children deserved the best of my energy and time. Despite earning more than my husband, I resigned from my job when I was eight months pregnant. It was a leap of faith, and the move looked foolish to many. My farewell email to my colleagues read: “You never know what you are living for until you know what you would die for.” That was my conviction and remains so to date. To give my family the best version of me, and not the dregs.

What sacrifices have you had to make?

I had to make and keep making sacrifices. In hindsight, everyone in life makes sacrifices, because when we say yes to one thing, we simultaneously say no to another. What matters is that we purpose to say yes to the things that we value and are worth the sacrifice. This arrangement has made it possible for me to be present in the most significant moments of my children’s lives. By sacrificing my corporate career, I discovered amazing gifts, skills and profitable abilities while I was at the same time raising my family. My role as a stay-at-home mum has enabled me to truly find myself as an entrepreneur, author, home educator, coach, East Africa Home-school Support Representative and now CEO of Sol Kids Africa. All these beautiful roles share the same passion and value of impacting the next generation.

Have you had financial difficulties?

I am in awe of working mothers who are constantly navigating the delicate balance of building thriving careers while running their homes and being intentional parents and wives. None is better than the other, each choice is demanding and challenging in its way. As a stay-at-home mum, there have been tough financial seasons when I questioned this decision and often wondered how further ahead we would be as a family if I had continued working. There have been seasons when I have craved deep intellectual stimulation and problem-solving beyond resolving sibling squabbles and figuring out what to cook for dinner. Emerging from these challenges has built my resilience, innovation and character.

Do people understand your choice?

I have received negative responses from both women and men about my not having an office job. Initially, this used to bother me and I would introduce myself by adding where I used to work, to gain some stamp of approval. Some would assume I am illiterate or a “kept woman” who is at home out of no choice and would dismiss me. However, with time, I learnt to be secure in who I am, and not in what I do or what others think of me. Now I confidently introduce myself as Melissa, and that in itself is sufficient. No explanations, running commentaries or subtitles are needed.

Any wisdom you have gained from your experience?

Life is a journey marked with highs and lows. Choosing to be a stay-at-home mum is a personal calling that will not be void of doubts, challenges and sacrifices, but it is worth every moment. It is fulfilling to pour into the lives of those whom you love, to be intentionally present, sowing into their lives and having front row seats as their biggest cheerleader. I will end this interview with South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko’s quote: “It is better to die for an idea that will live than to live for an idea that will die.”  

Stella Rop, late 30s, mother of two (four and two):

Stay-at-home mum since 2020

Did you always want to be a stay-at-home mum?

Life decided for me! When I was expecting my second child, I worked full-time for a publishing company, which fell into financial distress. The company shifted location for the same reason and the commute became strenuous since it was quite a distance from my home. I could not keep up with this and considering that I was still nursing my newborn. It ended up being a choice between my job and caring for my child, and I chose the latter.

 Stella Rop [Courtesy]

What sacrifices have you had to make?

The biggest sacrifice has been financial. I do editing and proofreading work for clients from home, and I also write newspaper articles. I have a blog where I write about parenting and family, Through the Lens of My Life, but my income is sporadic so we are basically a one-income family.

As a result, there are many things I have had to give up, like buying myself new clothes or attending social events that require spending money.

However, it is all worth it. Even when the going is tough, I consider myself blessed to spend time with my daughters. I am around to influence them, instil our faith and values in them and simply enjoy them.

What do you love about being a stay-at-home mum?

I am thankful that I do not have a daily commute! I enjoy the conversations that I have with my daughters, I learn about them by simply being around them. I also have the time to do things that are meaningful to me like serving in church and writing: I am also an author and a columnist.

Any challenges that come with being a stay-at-home mum?

In the beginning, I struggled with the loss of identity that comes with being a stay-at-home mum. Now that I had no job and spent all day with a newborn and a toddler, I felt like I was not contributing to society. I felt guilty about the amount of money my parents had spent on my education, only for me to end up staying at home. I felt like a failure and worried that I was being a burden to my husband. I even became reluctant to attend social events because I felt that I did not measure up to others. That was then. Having a loving and supportive husband has been a great comfort. He reassured me that he supported my decision and constantly reminds me that he is thankful for what I am doing at home. My faith in God also reminds me that my real identity is in Christ, not in any achievement or title.

Advice to other women considering being stay-at-home mums?

If you are married, make sure your husband supports the idea 100 per cent. It is a big sacrifice by each one of you. Also, do not be shocked when being at home turns out to be much harder and lonelier than you thought. Accept your new reality, and feed your mind by reading books that will encourage you as a stay-at-home mum. Look for women who are or have been stay-at-home mums and get to listen to their stories; they could be people you find on the internet. Their friendship will cheer you on. Watch YouTube videos on topics that interest you as you work on your home. Finally, remember that the children will grow. I promise!

Yvonne Tiony, late 30s, mother of three (10, nine and four):

Stay-at-home mum since 2011

What motivated you to be a stay-at-home mum?

I wanted to play the primary parenting role in my children’s lives. I wanted to be the one who was there to take care of them, teach them, encourage them and correct them. To be the one to whom they run first when they need guidance and help.

 Yvonne Tiony [Courtesy]

What sacrifices have you had to make?

I have not grown in my career as my age mates have, and some opportunities have passed me since I have had to focus on taking care of my family. Financially, it has also not been easy as the family only enjoys one income - my husband’s.

What do you love about being a stay-at-home mum?

I love seeing my children grow, I love being part of their day-to-day lives. I witnessed when they first walked, was there when they said their first words and was present to see them all on their first days of school. I can easily tell if they are not okay, and when they are going through a rough patch and need special attention. I am the primary influence in their lives, and I do not have to worry that they could be receiving unfair treatment from a nanny. 

Do you think society understands your choice?

Most people do not understand why I had to make such a decision, in an era where women are supposed to be more ‘empowered’. And because this is not a popular way of life, my social life has been affected. Most people think that the only topics a stay-at-home mum would be knowledgeable about are motherhood and family, yet one may be enlightened on many other areas of life. I no longer feel the need to explain to people the choices we have made as a family. Financially, it is not easy since depending on one salary is tough. Over the years, however, we have tried business ventures to supplement the family income.

Advice to other women considering being stay-at-home mums?

I would tell them to go for it after they have had a talk and agreed with their spouse. The decision will involve great sacrifices but the benefits of seeing your child growing, thriving and knowing that you played a huge role in that process is very fulfilling. I would tell them that being a stay-at-home mother is only for a season. The children will grow up and that will allow you to get back to your career. You can also be a stay-at-home mother and run a part-time hustle.

Where do you want to be five years from now?

I would like to be a parenting coach and family therapist. As a stay-at-home mother, I have found that I enjoy seeing the family unit thrive in all ways. I have written a book, Raising Children, Raising Hope, out of my experiences and observations as a parent, to educate more people on intentional parenting. I also have a blog, Mama Warembo, where I post about my parenting experiences.

 Expert Advice

According to Reson Sindiyo, a Counselling Psychologist and founder of Resilience tips that can help one to better navigate life as a stay-at-home mum includes:

Before making the change from career to stay- at- home mum it is important for both the husband and wife to discuss expectations when it comes to roles and finances. This will help the couple to be able to support each other once they understand what their expectations are.

 Counselling Psychologist Reson Sindiyo gives expert advice on how to make the transition to a stay-at-home mum [Courtesy]

Recognise that moving from a career girl to a stay-at-home mother is a drastic change, and that it is expected. It can be a drastic change in terms of pace especially if you came from a high-flying job. A lady can find herself lost without a way to define herself without her job. So, it can be a defining moment for many women, where they now have to discover themselves anew and define themselves differently. So, be intentional on reinventing and rediscovering who you are as a stay-at-home mum, and if necessary, go get professional help to better navigate this big transition.

Continue to maintain your social circle. Maintain a social circle for stay-at-home mothers as this will provide not only support, but a platform to share the highs and lows of your experience, and to learn from others. Also maintain a social circle with former colleagues and from your old life to do fun activities for yourself together with friends.

Men should be intentional about helping their wives in their role as stay-at-home mums. Being a stay-at-home mum is a very demanding job both emotionally, mentally and physically, and so the man can pick a day where they stay with the child or children and allow their wife to are a day off from everything. They can also try and come hoe early from work to help with the children.

The world has gone digital opening many work or hustling opportunities, take advantage. Better yet you can reinvent yourself and go back to school or join a gym.

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