Not built to be a stay-at-home mum

Opting to care for her daughter is the right choice but this writer hopes to return to work eventually.

It's been a full ten months and I still find it difficult to say that I'm a stay-at-home-mum. Less than two years ago, I was a full-fledged news reporter with five plus years under my belt, working in the beautiful and dynamic state of Penang.

It was a career I always knew I would have. True, in my early secondary school years, I put 'teacher' and 'accountant' on my official school list of ambitions, but that was before I found out how fun it was to submit entries like 'international spy' and 'nun' instead.

I had set myself on a plan when I was 14 years old - get myself into a local university, study journalism and somehow end up at CNN. It wasn't the money (what money?) or glamour (haha, glamour?) that attracted me to the profession.

It was more the fact that I was outspoken, always geared up for a good debate/fight, confrontational and easily bored. Something that changed every day was the only thing I could imagine doing for the long-term.

In journalism, I was also doing something I inherently believed was good and honourable. It was all those things. It was exciting, it was beautiful, it was downright terrible and I loved it.

When I took a break to pursue a communications masters Down Under, I was constantly asked what it was like to be a reporter and I always gave the same answer - it's like having a bad boyfriend: you love it, but there's little doubt that it's killing you. It doesn't let you sleep, it barely lets you eat, but nothing makes you feel more alive.

About four months into my year-long study stint, my husband (who was with me in Australia doing his own masters) and I received the most unexpected news. We were expecting ... in a foreign country, at a time when neither of us had an income.

Needless to say, the timing was not ideal, but when you're in a situation where you can choose to freak out or be happy, you go with the latter and roll with the punches.

I have to say, I was very taken with the Australian maternity leave. Under the law there, mothers have the option of extending their leave up to a year and their employers must keep their jobs for them.

The government also helps out financially, which eases the burden of new families. I can't tell you the percentage of women who take up this option, but among the friends and colleagues I made during my time there, it was almost 100%.

Perhaps now is a good time to disclose that I am not the most maternal of women.

Still, to me, three-month-old babies seemed a little small to be left in full-time daycare. I mean, some of those little mons ... moppets can barely lift their heads.

So, when my beautiful little terrorist arrived two months after I submitted my last university paper and hopped on a plane home, the choice was clear. I just couldn't leave her and go back to work, not for a while, anyway.

My husband had secured a position that could sustain us both. Thankfully, as neither of us are big spenders, we could enjoy much of the lifestyle we had before our postgraduate endeavour. Of course, our ability to save has been severely diminished.

The months had gone by quite slowly, up until our little Hailey turned eight-months-old. With the crawling and babbling, it'd been quite action-packed since then.

But there's hardly been a week that I had not missed being something more than a mum.

I feel that when I answer the question "what do you do?". Society is sceptical of stay-at-home-mothers. I could just imagine what my teachers would have said had I put that down as my topmost ambition. It would have garnered a longer talk than my 'international spy' aspiration.

After being chained to the kitchen sink for centuries, women are now hotwired to go as far as we can, both academically and professionally. And there's nothing wrong with that. In the big scheme of things, it'll still be decades before we scratch the surface of equal pay and gender equality.

After being nurtured and encouraged to go the distance, it's hard to turn off that competitive spirit and put my needs and ambitions on hold.

On top of that, choosing to stay at home officially delegates me as a wage spender instead of wage earner, which further erodes my sense of independence and self.

We talk a lot about empowering women and breaking that glass ceiling, but seeing how people react to stay-at-home-mums (and how some of us, including me, view ourselves), I can't help wonder if we're still trapped in a society of stereotypes that prescribe us a list of acceptable and unacceptable life choices.

Our choices are getting increasingly varied every day. However, if we're just as compelled to be out of the house now as we were forced to be in the house before, I don't see that as a significant improvement to women's liberation.

Whatever the choice - to raise your kids full-time or not - the important thing is that we are given a choice and not seen as weaker or less productive members of society either way.

In all honesty, being a stay-at-home-mum doesn't agree with me. I wasn't built for it and I don't have the characteristics to support it. But I do believe that my daughter benefits from my presence. Looking at her, I know I'll never do anything as important as caring for her.

Sooner or later, I'll go back to that crazy rat race. But it won't be today.

Today, I'll watch her try again to stand up unassisted, cheer her on, and teach her that the world is her oyster. And the home is, too, if that is her choice.

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