Tuesday witter

>> Tuesday, 7 July 2009

So I hear through family that my sister in law, half-way through her maternity leave with her 3 month old second child, is finding things tough. She says that she's 'a career woman'. This being at home with the kids lark is not for her; it's too difficult.

I feel incredibly sympathetic (no, really, I do). It is a shock to the system when your second baby arrives. What you previously thought of as hard work - looking after child #1 - is suddenly proved to have been a walk in the park. You know, when you have time to sit and look at your year old / 18 month old first baby / toddler, and the hormones do their special dance, weave their magic and you think "Aah, let's have a second one. I know what I'm doing now. How hard can it be?"

And of course, whilst everyone around you and all the books out there tell you exactly how hard, frankly you don't really believe that these tales of exhaustion, changing two sets of nappies, dealing with a demanding toddler unable to properly communicate with you, and a world that thinks doing these things are as easy as water off a duck's back actually apply to you. It will be hard, yes, but you'll be OK. Perhaps you'll even have more! I mean, you always said 2 or 4 kids, right...?

But enough about me.

What I'm trying to get round to saying is that my sister-in-law is only now finding out that being at home with your kids is just about the only job in the world for which you get no proper training other than that which you provide yourself. No wonder she's finding it hard. As a new - or repeat - parent you are simply parachuted in and expected to get on with it. And not only to get on with it, but to love it with every fibre of your being, and never complain, ever, about the long hours, the crap pay, and the lack of an appraisal structure.

I mean, obviously, you are getting to spend all your time with your children, to be there for all the important milestones, and to ensure that they are well-cared for and well-looked after.

But no shit Sherlock, yes, it's hard.

So here's one way of looking at it, for all those at home, struggling, and who are thinking that they are not cut out for this 24/7 parenting business. That they are career women / men.

Let's pretend. Let's pretend that being a stay-at-home carer is a 'proper job'.

(You know, one that you get recognition for doing, one that doesn't get regularly dissed in the press by people who've either never tried it or who struggled through their maternity leave desperate to get back to work for proper pay, conversation, wearing smart clothes and killer shoes, and the chance to go to the loo with the door shut. Aaaah, the memories...)

Anyway.

You've taken on this new and 'proper' job. It's in an unfamiliar field, but it's something you've wanted to do for a while, and haven't had the chance to do until now. Some parts of this new job are AMAZING. Some parts suck. Whilst dealing with the latter, you ask yourself whether or not you've done the right thing. But over time, although the AMAZING parts may become a little muted - simply through the fact they become commonplace - the parts that suck actually don't suck quite so much. You get used to them. You find coping skills to make them seem less awful. And sooner or later, you find you're actually becoming quite good at this new job. You feel more confident, more able to cope, and you begin to enjoy yourself.

Let's be honest though, the job descripition hasn't changed; what's happened is that you've grown into it. Sound familiar? Does that sound, in fact, like many jobs you might have had throughout your life? Well, welcome to parenting. And like most jobs, whilst there are some people for whom childcare is as easy as falling off a log, there are others for whom it takes a little longer - and I make no bones about the fact that I was one of those, too.

Until we stop telling ourselves that being the main carer should be easy, we're going to continue imagining that if we don't 100% love it straightaway we're better off doing something different.

Now I'm not for one moment suggesting that we turn back the clock and that the legions of working mums should throw in the towel and stay home to look after the kids. Please, no. Not only would the economy collapse, but everyone should do what is right for their family. On top of that, from a purely selfish perspective, I want to go back to work one day, no doubt about it, and I'll need as many of you there as I can get. (For a start, what man is going to have the nerve to tell me that my skirt is tucked into my knickers when I come back from the loo? And yes, it's happened before...)

I'm talking, I suppose, to those who currently find themselves at home and looking after their kids, and are shocked or miserable at how hard they're finding it, whether that's on maternity leave, in between jobs, or because it's the only way right now. I would just ask you to question the assumption that what you're doing - looking after your children yourself - should be easy, and not to beat yourselves up about it if that's not your experience.

I mean, why should it be easy? It's something worth doing, and when was that stuff ever easy?

22 comments:

Single Parent Dad 7 July 2009 at 13:03  

Quality post. And I don't know anyone who finds it easy, even those that make it look that way. It is simply a slog at the beginning, with little in return.

Dancinfairy 7 July 2009 at 13:15  

As a soon to be first time Mum, this was a really interesting read. I am so curious to know whether I will want to return to work or not, I really have no idea at the moment.

PippaD 7 July 2009 at 13:27  

Well said! This is why I have now decided that all my children will be born 4-5 years apart instead of the 18-24 months I insisted on in the past!

Coding Mamma (Tasha) 7 July 2009 at 13:39  

As someone who has never completely done the full-time mum thing, because I have another part-time parent on hand all the time too (and a very handy mum of my own), I will constantly marvel at how any of you manage to do it. Really. It truly is an incredibly hard job, though the rewards are pretty incredible (financial ones aside!).

I need my time at the computer to stay sane. And I need my time with Rosemary to stay sane, too. Of course, if I were a full-time mum, for whatever reason, I imagine I would, as you say, grow into, as we generally grow into other jobs. I would probably develop the same kind of coping strategies I had to develop when I had a horrible boss, or when I had taken on way too much work and was veering towards breakdown. Because you do.

Interesting post. Hope you SIL finds things easier, soon.

Tracey 7 July 2009 at 14:08  

Once when I was stressing to a friend, also with 3 kids, but who had part time work, about how inadequate I felt not going out to work, she confessed to me that, once she'd got to work, the day was a lot easier than being at home with the kids.

Personally I don't know that I could have ever coped with the before and after work madness - so it just goes to show that there is no "right" way.

Do you think some mums find it "hard" because it's not recognised as being genuine "work" - therefore we are primed to think we should be finding it easy, and are shocked when it's not all easy peasy? {I'm sure this isn't helped by husbands who come home and wonder 'what you've done all day'!}

Really Rachel 7 July 2009 at 14:37  

Thank you, Potty Mummy! You're right: it's not easy and it's always going to be challenging - but it's worth it.

Expat mum 7 July 2009 at 15:26  

As someone with a huge gap between number two and three (and I mean big), I would just warn anyone (PippaD) thinking about a larger than two year gap - it is still as knackering, AND you're not used to the sleepless nights and constantly being "on". When they get to about 4 or 5, they're at least feeding themselves, going to the loo and dressing themselves. Then you have another one and the absolute shock of the baby thing is enormous!

Pig in the Kitchen 7 July 2009 at 18:40  

It is not easy. Jesus, but it is not easy, especially on day two of the holidays. I am slumped in front of the computer, dulled by red wine, contemplating making up beds for two extra sleepover guests (ok, so that was my fault, i did offer)...

I can confirm, IT. IS. NOT. EASY.
Pigx

Mwa 7 July 2009 at 20:04  

Lovely post. And you're absolutely right.

I have been told twice in the last year that it must be lovely, to be on holiday all the time. They should try it sometime.

Potty Mummy 7 July 2009 at 20:29  

Thanks SPD. And 'a slog' is a good description...

DF, hope this hasn't put you off the whole parenting thing (not that there's any way back now, of course...mwa ha ha...). And take your time to decide, if you're able to.

PippaD - thanks, and see Expat Mum's comment below. She knows...

Thanks Tasha, and yes, I hope she finds it easier too, preferably before she returns to work in a couple of months.

Tracey, I think you've hit the nail on the head, that probably is why so many of us find it hard. It's certainly why I did.

Rachel, they're asleep then? And yes, it is worth it. (Most of the time)

EPM, I have printed that out and will stick it on my fridge.

Pig, can't wait for the sleepovers to begin. No, really. I mean it...

Mwa, thanks for commenting and tell me, did you give those helpful people a smack across the face with a wet nappy? Or at the very least, a soggy muslin?

nappy valley girl 7 July 2009 at 21:38  

Definitely not easy. I'm one of those you're addressing, currently stuck in the full time mum mode for the first time since maternity leave. At least for this summer (come the autumn, I'm capitulating to preschool). You have to have the patience of a saint (which I certainly don't), be prepared to deal with all things to do with being the one at home (laundry, cleaning, problems with the house) and constantly seek activities. I've never thought it would be easy, though. And every day we get through without a major meltdown I feel as if I've achieved something akin to a major work project going well.

Laurie 7 July 2009 at 21:42  

I think the best thing we can do for one another is to stop lying about how 'easy' it is. When you've heard that from someone else, it just makes you feel terrible about how difficult it is for you! Maybe a bit of support for one another would be nicer!

Kat 7 July 2009 at 22:08  

I feel so lucky to be able to stay home. No end to my gratitude that it has worked out for us.

jen 7 July 2009 at 22:18  

Well said, very well said indeed........from a recent mum of two!!!!

SandyCalico 7 July 2009 at 22:49  

I love this post. I wish I'd been able to read it before deciding to try for our second baby.
Having said that even if I had read it, I wouldn't have believed you. Our second baby was born 362 days after our first.
I've never worked so hard in my life (this coming from an accountant who has worked ninety hour weeks).
The light-bulb moment for me (when our first baby was a few weeks old) was to realise that being a stay at home mum is my job now.
This post has been favourited!

Nicola 7 July 2009 at 23:53  

You are so spot on. I feel like I am coming to terms with my 'change of career' and I do recognise how hard I work. It's still not easy but now that I am more comfortable with my predominantly SAHM status I enjoy my time more. I do hate feeling that I have to justify myself and still hate all the comments 'Wow, life of riley. What do you do with yourself all day?!'

Iota 8 July 2009 at 02:58  

She needs the patent Iota "I'm having a crsppy stay-at-home-mum day" method of getting life back in perspective.

1) Stop comparing the worst day at home with those marvellous days in the office, when colleagues were fun and witty, everything went smoothly, and the content of your work was interestng.

2) Remember that those days were the rare ones. Now deliberately recall, in detail, the really bad ones. Those ones when your boss was a complete jerk, when you took the rap for something that wasn't your fault, when the sheer pettiness of office politics made 2-year-old tantrums seem positively sophisticated, when you couldn't sleep at night because you couldn't let it all go.

3) Now you are on a level playing field. Now compare your crappy at home day with your crappy work day.

I know this isn't quite the point for your sis-in-law, but I do think that it is easy to glamourise whatever it is we are NOT doing. It works in either direction.

A Modern Mother 8 July 2009 at 06:33  

Nice post Potty. No one said it was going to be easy, but no one said how draining it would be.

What I want to know is why we complain about it (because we can?) I say as the biggest complainer on the plant.

Potty Mummy 8 July 2009 at 12:11  

NVG, hold that thought. Personally if I manage to tick off half my list in a day (and I confess it might even contain stuff as mundane as making a phone call), then I feel I deserve a medal...

Laurie, thanks for commenting, and yes you're right. I think some people don't want to seem as if they're moaning though, which is why they put on a good front. Moan away, I say!

Kat, thanks for commenting and you're right, it is a gift to be able to do this. But not a free one - which is what I think some people imagine it to be.

Jen, keep going, you can do it! (And - I know you'll have heard this before - it does get easier...)

Thanks Sandy! And 362 days? Wow!

Nicola, you know I think if you've had a job you enjoyed pre-kids, coming to terms with SAHM doesn't often happen overnight. Personally it took me a couple of years to feel comfortable with it. Now though, I feel able to answer those mindless comments with an invitation to come and do my job for a day... Funny, no-one ever takes me up on it.

Iota, that is so true. Excellent advice, and I will pass it on if I get the chance. (I will also make a note of it for myself in the future!)

Modern, good question. I think it may be because we are so shocked that reality falls so far short of the dream. And of course we feel the need to try and convey this to people who, never having done it, have no idea what it takes.

Metropolitan Mum 8 July 2009 at 12:42  

I love my baby, I REALLY do. But still, I am honestly wondering how hormonal one must get to try for number 2 (or 3...). It's much more exhausting than everything I ever took on. And at the same time so much more rewarding.
My last job was pointless, and I am not missing the slightest bit of it. Of course, I played with the adults in the oh so adult world, wearing suits I didn't like, taking the tube (bleugh) every day, getting paid to buy more disliked suits and being able to afford a cab every once in a while, to avoid the hated tube. I was going nowhere fast, so to say.
I love seeing my daughter smile. Love to see her growing and thriving, love to feel her little heart ponding in her chest. This gives my life so much more sense than every job I did before. But still, I don't see myself having a number 2. I rather see myself pursuing the career I always dreamt of, as soon as I feel little L is big enough to enter nursery for a few mornings a week.

clareybabble 10 July 2009 at 13:12  

Great post. I found first time motherhood incredibly hard and decided to go back to work part time. It was such a good balance and really had a good effect on me as a mother. Rather than dreading getting up in the morning and finding a million good tings to do with a baby (who was quite happy playing on his own most of the time). Now with no.2 I'm finally finding it easier and I work 2 days a week. It really works for our family as well as giving us a bit of extra dough to spend on the children. x

Motheratlarge 16 July 2009 at 00:00  

Thank you, thank you, dear PM. I needed this posting very much. Why has no-one else ever said this? I have these thoughts you have voiced so well whizzing round in my head most hours of the day.

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