Let me begin by providing a little bit of information about my personal circumstances. I am a stay at home mum. It was my choice, I had a job to return to, but I resigned. My monthly salary minus petrol and childcare would have been nominal, I would have been going to work as a hobby, and truth be told, I just didn’t love my job as much as I love my baby.
My return to work date was arranged for the middle of August, about a month from now. Throughout my pregnancy and even during the first months of motherhood I had always intended to return to work. It was only during a badly timed visit to work with baby which resulted in us commuting home during rush hour (about the time we would leave work together each day) and having to experience the hell of a hot car in a traffic jam with a screaming infant for an hour, that I really thought about not going back. From there on, my desire to return diminished day by day until I felt sick at the thought of leaving my darling. Husband and I made the decision for me to resign together – I am so very fortunate that he supports me and is able to support our family financially – and so I said goodbye to my job, the career I had worked years to achieve, my colleagues, and very possibly, my sanity.
To help me justify my unemployed status to myself, and to try and maintain some dignity and feeling of accomplishment day to day, I started to mentally draft a kind of job description for being a stay at home mum. This included things like always cooking from scratch a meal for my husband to be ready for him as soon as he gets home; taking my baby to at least one activity per day; keeping the house to (admittedly my own self-imposed) high-standard inside and out; doing at least 3 extra jobs per day (in addition to the everyday washing, cooking, washing up, tidying, etc). Living within these guidelines gave me some structure, something to aim towards, something to prove my existence. But recently I have been finding it hard. I feel tired a lot, run down. I feel the sadness I thought had gone starting to return.
Friends who have returned to work joke that it gives them some relief. One of my friends has used some holiday whilst her baby was in nursery and had an actual break.. Others have been away on hen weekends and spa days, or their babies have spent time with grandparents or other family members. Of the 388 days that Baby R has been alive, I have had 4 significant periods of time (more than 1 hour) away from him. Twice when I was late-night food shopping during the early days when we never slept; once when I went to hospital for my breast biopsy and abscess drain; and an hour and a half last weekend when I went fabric shopping for my new business. Of course husband takes him out for walks etc, but these have primarily been to allow me to achieve some household chore, never for relaxation or rest.
And so with each day and week and month that goes past, I find myself more and more in need of space. Except the guilt of ‘doing nothing’ sends me in to overdrive each weekend, and instead of taking time off I keep adding lists of ever more specific jobs to my list of jobs to do, and I keep doing things that lead to other things. Instead of accomplishing anything or feeling settled or satisfied, I feel that I am paddling upstream and getting nowhere. I am desperate for husband to rest after his week out at work, to recuperate, spend time with Baby R, and enjoy himself. I am also desperate to be a model wife and mother, to appear as if I am coping, and to prove my value as a stay at home mum. Each weekend is like a one-to-one with my manager and I feel as if I am still on probation. I can’t afford to slip now.
I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way, but it has made me think that perhaps the pressure on us stay-at-home-ers is just as intense as those mummy’s who return to work, and maybe (in some ways) it is more. There is no return to the ‘adult world’, no validation from performance reviews, no conversation or lunch breaks or hot coffee. But there is an expectation that being at home is fun, full of play dates and Costa coffees. That it is the easy choice, after all, it involves doing nothing.
My returned-to-work friends are slowly drifting apart from me, the differences in our choices and our lifestyles mean they now gravitate towards other return-to-work-ers. They want to go out after work and get drunk; I can’t get over the guilt of the idea of not being home, not working on the house or getting my business ready, let alone actually doing it.
So what is my point? I have said before to husband (during arguments) that the job I left gave me 38 holiday days per calendar year plus bank holidays, weekends, evenings and nights off. What does my new role offer? An occasional uninterrupted watch of lunchtime Neigbours when the fates align so that dinner is prepared and Baby R is napping. Is that a rest? Have I given up my entitlement to hope for or expect anything more when I gave up work? I don’t really know the answers to these questions at the moment but they burden me and whilst unanswered they add to my exhaustion.
I think it is inevitable that both sides of the return to work vs stay at home debate will, at times, look upon the other with envy and jealousy, a longing to chuck it all in and defect. There is no right path in life, just what is right for you, and as I am learning, even what you think is right for you may actually only be what is right for you, right now.
I am ready to ask for a Saturday morning or afternoon off now. I know my babe will survive without me and I have a handful of people I trust to care for him in my absence, although they mainly live a few hundred miles away. I hope that some separation will help me to live as myself again for a few hours, to reconnect with who I am, to be a mum without having to actually stay at home. I’m not sure when I will book my mini holiday just yet, perhaps it will be this month or next or in the autumn or winter, but I will make the most of it, and will treat it as a day off from work. And yes, I probably will drink wine!