Notoriously, I am bad at being a stay-at-home mother.
I get tired. I get sad. I get over-thinky. I get resentful. Then I get the guilts because so many parents would love the have the time and the fiscal luxury of a few months off with their happy, smiley babies. Why can’t I appreciate every minute of the day? Obvious answer from self, “Because I am a bad person.”
I run on adrenaline for the first three months. Sleep deprivation and other people’s baking is the perfect cocktail for me. I feel invincible.
However, when things settle down and the visitors have taken back their plates, I’m left with the reality that my life is mostly about breast milk, laundry, house stuff, poo talk and the question that can bring anyone to their knees in an existential crisis: What’s for dinner?
I am not a cake baker. I’m not a gardener. I’m not knitter nor a bunting seamstress. I don’t DIY. I am not any of the things I have idealised about my mother who was a really good homemaker. The idea of icing a cake to look like a cartoon character makes me anxious, sad and enraged all at the same time.
Bottom line, I do not live up to my expectations of what a mother at home should be. I am barely baking the cake, forget the fondant.
Like a lot of men and women, I like my job and get a lot of pride from doing it well. When I left the glamorous world of teenage education for the birth of my first daughter, no one prepared me for the fact that I might miss my job, my students and being a professional.
The having monetary value, the dressing in black, the pseudo-intellectual conversation. I missed all of it. Especially when G1 woke at 5:45am crying. Every. Day. To make matters worse at five months, G1 went on a nap strike. I tried everything and in the end, conceded that I was just doing the mother thing wrong. I wanted to quit my job, partly because I wasn’t good at it.
Knowing at 6am that I had to fill in a whole day (and ideally, cook a decent dinner) before I could go back to bed filled me with dread. The hours of a whole day to fill in. The hours. Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolfe and me.
Oh, the guilt when I realised I couldn’t hack it and went back to work, ending my maternity leave four months early… I used to lie and say G1 was 8 months instead of 7.5 because I didn’t want to be judged about choosing to abandon my young child. I realise now the lie was more for me than anyone else (my people tend to be the pretty good, non-judgemental and supportive types). Many women return to full-time work for financial reasons but I felt it was taboo for me to want to work if I didn’t ‘have’ to. A crime of the heart. Men do it all the time but there I was, convinced I was a bad mother.
Here I am, though, I’m going to say it:
Sometimes, I like my job more than I like making a home. OK … you got me … almost always.
In the 1950s, I would have made an excellent television father (assuming I had the awesome, all-purpose stay-at-home wife to do the hard — or just germy — family stuff). After months of being entirely available 24/7 for months after my firstborn, I found it so much easier to swoop in at the end of the day to be all ears, smiles and attentive for the 2.5 hours between daycare and bedtime than muster up the enthusiasm for it all day, every day. I also found it much easier when my husband and I were in the same boat. The working, stressed parent boat of two people chasing full-time careers was a little leaky but at least I had good company.
And I certainly liked myself more when I was spending part of my day at work. I was less whiney, less over-thinky and less naggy. I needed a break from myself as much as anything. In my defence, we have no grandparents in town and we had no extended family to take G1 out for a couple of hours on the weekend. It takes a village to raise a child, right? Daycare was my village.
Fast-forward 3 years to the arrival of G2. My colleagues, friends and even husband were making light-hearted bets about a speedy return to the chalk face. I was convinced I would feel differently. I put in a half a dozen safeties, just in case I didn’t: a uni course, roller derby, new mums’ walking group, G1 in daycare, amber alert to non-mummy friends, red alert to mummy friends.
My second maternity leave was going to be different. For the most part, it was but at the passing of my 33 birthday, I felt a little bit unappreciated and invisible to the real world. Sometimes, breastfeeding was starting to feel like a time-leash. Tied to a lovely, smiley little ginger thing but a leash none-the-less. Maintaining a little objectivity, I could see the familiarity of those thought patterns.
Juvenile as it was, I didn’t bounce back when I realised there were no candles or singing on my birthday. I was sad. (There were other things — my family and friends aren’t monsters but man, I love cake and candles and making a wish). Trivial really. Trivial but a symptom of darker things?
The lack of bounce back. I was tired. My usual resilience was waning.
I saw that I was in danger of my second journey down the post-newborn spiral. To be honest, I really hadn’t seen it coming. I was so careful.
While I respect, admire and value the stay at home mum, I cannot be her. Not for long anyway.
However, I want to make the year at home. And I want to appreciate it. I endeavour to slow my journey down the sad, highly-strung, overthinky spiral. I want to be tied to my lovely ginger, a little bit longer and be more present for the two blondies, too.
And this is how I’m going to do it — I’m going to prioritise. I will choose what I want and need to do. I will value those pillars first and worry less about the rest.
My Stay-At-Home Priorities:
- Love and meet the needs of my baby (…and the other two kids).
- Exercise enough to stay happy.
Everything else is icing.
Hot dinners, laundry, grocery shopping, stimulating educational play opportunities, closet organisation. All of it. Icing. Brightly coloured, cartoon-shaped icing.
p.s. Shout out to all the parents, at home or work or where ever you are. Good effort, people.
p.p.s. Extra special shout out to anyone who can decorate a cake. Your skills mystify and impress me!
p.p.p.s. And another shout out to my husband for coming home from work and making me dinner on the days I don’t want to! How ‘bout today? Is today good for you?