When I first went on maternity leave and became a stay at home mum two and a half years ago, I had grand ideas about what I’d do with all of the spare time I was going to have. I had hobbies I was planning to take up, new skills I was going to learn, and of course, my house was going to be pristine.
I completely underestimated how much time it takes to keep a newborn baby alive. And the reality of those first few months brought me crashing back down to planet earth…
Wife guilt, mum guilt, life guilt…
In truth, I found being a stay at home mum pretty frustrating in the beginning. The huge responsibility of parenting a child didn’t feel ‘productive enough’ for me somehow. I begrudged getting to the end of the day and finding that the house was still a bomb hole – in spite of the fact that I seemed to do nothing other than tidy up all day.
It felt as though everyone else was carrying on living their lives and having fun without me, whilst I had been cast to this new privileged world of motherhood. I felt like I should feel eternally grateful – and of course I was – but for a long time I also felt very alone. I was constantly shattered and had no energy to do anything. And I selfishly felt as though I never had enough time to myself.
In all fairness I still stand by my earlier assessments that Taylor was a difficult newborn. My failed attempts to comfort her and quieten her constant crying left me feeling even more helpless. I was failing on every level and felt that I perhaps wasn’t cut out for this.
Justifying my existence
Despite the hubby always being supportive, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that he felt I had the better deal. And why wouldn’t he? I had no (tangible) stress to deal with, no financial pressure and ultimately, I got to spend all day with the child who he painfully missed every day.
And I agree. I would take those days spent at home with my daughter – no matter how testing – any day over my previous career. But in my experience, I found that with the privilege of being a stay at home mum, came the feeling that I constantly owed something. I felt I had to justify my existence.
I’d become obsessive about using every spare minute when Taylor slept to ‘get something done’. Whether that was to clean a bathroom, wash the dishes, write a blog post…Sleep when baby sleeps just wasn’t something I could allow myself to do.
Some days I would spend all afternoon cleaning and I would feel so deflated when the hubby walked through the front door and didn’t even notice.
Other days he would be met by an exasperated and exhausted wife who didn’t seem capable of holding it together. I felt like he or nobody else really believed me when I told them that she had cried the entire day.
But these thoughts were all my own, and really nothing to do with anyone else.
It’s true that I didn’t have the stress of work to deal with. But I can say that my patience has never been tested so much as in those days.
I’ve never worked so hard and felt so little gratification from all of my efforts as I did then. I’ve never felt so tired.
Cherishing these days
Following the newborn days, things got a whole lot better. I can’t remember when exactly, but around Taylor hitting six months life got far more enjoyable. I loved being able to interact and play actual games with her. And I loved being a mum more with each month that she became more independent.
With a much happier child I became a much happier mum. I started to take a far more relaxed approach. I managed to shake the mum guilt (and wife guilt!) and I realised that I didn’t need to be good at everything – as long as I was a good mum.
Following my planned maternity leave, I made the decision to go back to work part-time. This is the ideal scenario for me and makes those days spent with my daughter all the more precious. I love being able to dedicate set days of my week to her, without thinking about all of the other things that I should perhaps be doing. We have such fun together and I feel so lucky that I’m able to spend this time with her.
I’ve found my happy place.
Second time around…
As we wait for the arrival of our second baby in ten weeks time, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t scared. Scared about returning to those newborn days. Scared about becoming a full-time stay at home mum once again.
But I feel so much more prepared this time around and I’m looking forward to being far more confident and self-assured. I know that I’m a good mother and a good wife. And that’s all I can ask of myself.
Are you a stay at home mum? How was your experience of the early days? Did you find it took some getting used to?