Following on from the insightful and thought provoking posts by Gemma at My Big Nutshell and Daisy at Daisy Roo and Two this week I wanted to share my own experiences of taking on too much and not knowing when to ask for help. As Daisy said, the concept of motherhood as a sacrifice is fairly common even though she herself does not see it that way. I sometimes feel I have sacrificed a few of the things that I once thought defined me, but each day I discover new rewards for the things I gave up. I know there are times when I resented having to be the responsible one while those around me continued to live their lives seemingly unaffected by my shift in priorities. But like anything, with time comes confidence and through this confidence I have been able to embrace being a mum.
As much as I look back fondly on my time breastfeeding, I wished most of it away because I felt so bound by it. At the time I felt I was giving up my independence, my social life and my personal space even though I knew that I was blessed to be able to do it at all, and that Skye and I were both benefiting immensely from the experience. The struggles I had initially with breastfeeding marked the beginnings of my desire to impress people in my new ‘role’. I wanted to succeed as much because I needed to be a success story as that I felt that it was the right thing to do.
In the early days I had convinced myself that with so many visitors dropping in and Luke having to return to work so quickly that I had to ensure that not only was Skye feeding well, gaining satisfactory weight and sleeping a sufficient amount of time, but the house was tidy at all times, I had showered and dressed properly and dinner was underway. I look back at that time and cringe at all the unnecessary pressure I put on myself, but where had it come from? I know there was the odd comment that was probably not meant with any criticism but it was enough to make me feel that I was failing if any of these things fell down, no matter how briefly. I was told countless times that I did not need to burden myself with so much, but I wasn’t listening. I was trying to impress EVERYONE.
As Skye has gotten older I now face the constant question of what I am doing with myself now. I tell them that I stay at home with Skye and it angers me that they seem to dismiss this as either lazy or indulgent. I use to justify myself by explaining that I am on Maternity Leave but I am still working from home in a limited capacity, but it was still viewed as the easy way out. The usual follow up question is whether I plan on ever returning to work and my response is generally that no I don’t plan on it at this stage. We are fortunate that we are in a position where I do not have to return to work and given the choice, I would rather be at home with Skye as long as possible.
I have only recently come to this sense of contentment, in the first year of Skye’s life I often felt that being back at work would be easier, because at least there would be some kind of structured work hours and I would have the adult interaction that I was craving. I found it difficult to accept that I was ‘just’ a mummy, my ego and pride made me feel that I deserved a better title and stupidly, a bigger challenge.
My problem was not that I did not enjoy (mostly) my time at home with Skye, but rather that I was given so little respect for doing so. Anyone that has been a Stay at Home Parent knows that it is the toughest job you can have. You work long hours doing repetitive tasks for an unpredictable boss with very little thanks. You often have to report in on what you have done with yourself all day when the washing up is still not done and dinner has yet to be considered. I got defensive.
I get most defensive when childless friends remark that I take on so many things because I have too much time on my hands. In truth I enjoy the mental stimulation in the same way anyone gains satisfaction from developing new skills or learning new things. If it makes me happy, I make the time to do it, but it’s not always easy. They clearly live in a fantasy land where children sleep all day, clean up any mess they create and feed and amuse themselves without any input from an adult. They are convinced that I spend my days wandering around shopping centres or sitting in cafes with other mothers of placid well behaved toddlers. I would love for them to see the amount of planning and scheduling that goes into a mad dash to a supermarket 20 minutes away. Or the frantic singing and food that I bribe Skye with so she doesn’t fall asleep in the car on the way home but rather in her cot on our return.
I have to explain to the same people that yes I stay at home with Skye, but she does go to day care once a week. I do this for Skye’s social and academic development and so I can have a day to get on with things that I can’t do with her or they take so long it’s not worth the effort. I can say that not once have I dropped Skye off and gone back home for a nap. I have only on one occasion gone to a shopping centre and bought myself a few items of clothing. Most weeks I do the groceries, make appointments with dentists, accountants and hair dressers, clean the house and catch up on the bookwork. Often my ‘day-off’ is busier than any other day of the week. Yes, there I go trying to impress again.
So really who am I trying to impress? Sadly I think I am trying to impress anyone who will listen, but mostly, like many mums, I am trying to impress myself. I am trying to prove that I haven’t shuffled off into the land of dirty nappies and sleepless nights where I no longer have anything valid to offer society. The irony is that the very act of mothering is potentially one of the most significant contributions you can make. Is it not the goal of all parents to guide their children into becoming at the very least courteous and caring members of the community? Is growing the next generation not the biggest responsibility a human can ever carry? If anything I should be worried about impressing my daughter by being the most supportive attentive mother I can be. I am quite sure when she looks back on her childhood the fact that we could offer her a (hopefully) stable, happy and nurturing foundation will be far more important than the state of the kitchen sink, something I need to bear in mind next time I think that I need more than I am already lucky to have.