'I've been stay-at-home mum for 5 years. I felt judged when my friend told me to go back to work.'

“Going back to work is the best thing to do when you have a daughter. I am teaching her to be independent and strong.” Those words spoken by my amazing friend were beautiful, brave and rang true. But they felt like a stab to the heart and a kick in the gut to me as a stay-at-home mum.

As my friend bounced her thoughts of returning to work off of me, I listened with what I hoped was an open mind and endless support. We had had our daughters merely weeks apart - my daughter being my second child and hers being her first, and they had not long just turned three-years-old. 

Like me after the birth of my first son, my friend couldn’t bear to return to her previous demanding job. We both had little support in terms of family members who could provide ongoing child care back then and sending our children to daycare when they were so little felt against everything our hearts were telling us. We were lucky enough to stay home with our young children and our partners took the financial baton.

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At this point, I had already been a SAHM for five years - only picking up a casual role as a university exam invigilator when the opportunity arose for some extra income. I had given up so much of my own life to raise my children mostly on my own.


My husband worked in hospitality and routinely did 60 to 70-hour weeks. He was out the door by 8am and home anywhere between 9pm and 1am. I was a ‘weekend widow’ as I was told by other mums and was solely responsible for our young children and anything to do with our home and family life. I felt more exhausted than when I was working and pregnant. 

I worked hard raising our family and running our lives. I never had a moment to myself and there was always something that needed to get done. 

I used to beg my husband to take time off work when I was unwell only to be met with “I can’t. Work needs me.” I understood that as the sole wage earner, my husband had the financial burden fall squarely on his shoulders but it enraged me that I couldn’t even get a sick day as a stay-at-home mum. 

Still, I soaked up every ounce of joy and happiness I could with our growing children. All the memories, good or bad, were mine to hold. It was hard, but worth it. 

When my friend opened up to me about her plans to return to work and her comments about working mums being better for our girls, I suddenly found myself unsteady in my role as a stay-at-home-mum. There was no malice in my friend’s comments, she was merely thinking out loud. That I had been a stay at home mum for years and had yet to return to work was probably not something she was thinking about. 

My friend is a beautiful soul and loves me endlessly. Nevertheless, it made me question my role after all this time.

Would my constant availability to my children, in turn, make them less independent? Was my not working outside the home setting a bad, 'backwards' example for my daughter? 

I had made the decision to be a stay-at-home-mum with a full heart and clear mind. Fully aware of the career setbacks and the financial constraints, but I had never felt this strange urge to leave my role as a stay-at-home-mum in order to feel like a 'good mum'.


It was off-putting. I ruminated on it on and off for weeks and months. I was upset at first, feeling confused and judged. I started to think about who I was and my sense of self unravelled. The simplest and most innocent of comments had set in motion a journey of self-discovery and honesty that I had not seen coming.

Of course I want to raise my daughter to be strong, independent, brave and unyielding to the constraints society places upon her. I want her to earn her own money and be able to stand on her own two feet. I want her to be whoever and do whatever makes her heart sing. I teach her and her brother to be equals. I teach them that it isn’t gender that matters but effort and kindness. I teach them that whilst their dad is the sole income earner at this time, our role in the family is equal. 

But whilst I wanted to impart these values to my children and most especially my daughter - was my ‘traditional’ role as primary caregiver and a stay-at-home mum undermining that? It was such an uncomfortable question. I then had my third baby, all while this sense of confusion and worry was bouncing around inside my head.

I began to look inward at my own self worth. What had struck a chord with me was that I felt threatened by the thought of my friend becoming a better role model for her daughter than I was for mine. That awful and unrealistic competitive drive we modern women have to be better, to be perfect, to always do that right and wonderful thing. It was this that was eating me up. 

I had to dig deep and truly allow myself to circle back to my own sense of self and beliefs. I had to be honest with myself in saying I was happy as a stay-at-home-mum, but also now wanted more to my life. 


That whilst I saw value in my role as a stay-at-home-mum, it was becoming draining to feel that society saw very little value in it. It was hard to feel less adequate than working parents, but also feel unrelenting in my heart's desire to be there 24/7 in raising my children until they started school. 

There was this push and pull now. I had changed over the years but I had never changed in my role. 

Listen to Mamamia's podcast Me After You, as host Laura Byrne walks us through the big post-motherhood moments with stories of wisdom, humour, breakdown, ambition, love, hope and rebirth from a truly diverse range of parents. Post continues after podcast.

I started rediscovering myself as a person. What I wanted to feel and do outside of being a mum. I began learning about and studying mental health. I began writing after years and years of writer's block. I started a support group for parents of children with ADHD. I started doing all the things I had thought about doing, but hadn’t because I was too tired, too spread thin. Along this road of self-discovery, I found a renewed sense of energy. 

That uncomfortable comment from my friend shook my life up in a way I will forever be thankful for. It wasn’t me as the mum of a daughter that needed to make changes; it was me as a person. 

Being happy in your sense of worth is what makes a good role model for our girls and boys alike. 

Rachael runs the Superbrains & Big Love ADHD support group on Facebook and Instagram.

Feature Image: Getty.