When I first went on maternity leave, I had some weird ideas about how we would spend our days. I fully expected to be out at baby groups every day, exploring Glasgow’s museums and parks, constantly keeping my little bean entertained and stimulated. I even thought I might have time to undertake a part-time college course as a side project. I’d be back in a part-time job in no time, and my baby would have a busy and active social life, while I maintained all my existing hobbies and interests. Then Eloise burst onto the scene. 7lbs 4.5oz of bright, wide-eyed perfection, and all my plans went out of the window. The first few weeks of having a newborn were hell on earth. In the early hours of one morning, when Eloise was crying for breastmilk that I didn’t seem to be producing fast enough, in the midst of my struggle with postnatal depression, I made my husband swear to have a vasectomy, thinking that there was no way I’d survive ever having another child.
Looking back, I realise now that this was simply a strong emotional response to postnatal hormones, sleep deprivation, and the stress of taking care of a newborn, but in that moment, the things I was saying made perfect sense to me and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling like a capable mother.
Fast forward eleven months, and suddenly I have a strong, healthy, active and hilarious almost-toddler. Eloise makes me smile every day, and I recently made the remarkably easy decision to stay at home with her, rather than returning to work, so that I could watch her grow and learn every day, without missing anything. I totally understand that not all parents are able to make this choice, due to financial restraints, and it’s not a choice that suits everyone, but I absolutely love being able to spend every day with my little monster.
That said, my experience of staying home with Eloise is not entirely what I expected it to be, and I wanted to write a little bit about what I’ve learned as a SAHM. Bear in mind that my little one is only 11 months old, and that parents of older or multiple kids will report on a different experience to my own. This is simply based on my own observations of motherhood.
Lesson 1: Things rarely, if ever, go according to plan.
This was something that a lot of people told me while I was expecting, but I didn’t understand the full extent of it until I was at home with Eloise every day. Sometimes we will plan to go to a new baby group, but Eloise will be napping, teething, or in the wrong sort of mood, and so we’ll end up giving it a miss. We are also largely dependent on the weather for certain activities, as living in one of the wettest cities in the UK has its disadvantages, so planning to do outdoor adventure play doesn’t always work out for us. As much as it is disappointing when our plans don’t come together, I’ve learned to roll with it and enjoy whatever we end up doing, even if it’s playing in the house with Eloise’s music station. I’ve also found that the best days are often unplanned, and these are usually the days when we end up cramming in loads of activities, and both go home in a great mood.
Lesson 2: Use the resources available to you.
For my first few months as a new mother (okay, 6-8 months, to be fair…), I loved making excuses for not doing things. Eloise was asleep so we couldn’t go to Bounce and Rhyme. Eloise was cranky from teething or had a cold, so there was no point trying to go someplace new. As time went on, I soon realised that it was easy to make excuses for everything, and spend weeks just alternating between the park and home. Eventually, I started to become restless from staring at four walls, and realised that if I was going to have any fun, I would need to risk turning up to places late, or with Eloise napping.
It was only when I cast my fears aside, that I was truly able to enjoy getting out and about with Eloise. We found a regular Bounce & Rhyme group at the local library, and they didn’t seem to mind if we turned up late or with Eloise half asleep. We both made friends. I also began to take more risks with our excursions, such as going on a day trip to the beach with my friend and his daughter. The whole way to the beach, I was nervous that I’d forgotten something really important, but when we got there, I soon realised it didn’t matter at all. It’s really easy to keep kids entertained in a new place, even if you’ve forgotten your usual parenting tools. And you can usually pick up what you need with relative ease. So the moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to go places, and use baby groups if they help your sanity. Seriously, they exist for a reason.
Lesson 3: Don’t feel pressured into trying things that don’t work for you.
While I found it helpful to use the resources available to me as a mother, it took me a while to find the ones that worked for us. For a long time, it was difficult for us to attend things in the morning, and then later on, afternoons became a challenge, as Eloise was usually napping. For this reason, there are a lot of baby groups we considered trying, but never seemed to manage. At first, I felt very guilty for not making these groups. I worried I was depriving Eloise of essential stimulation, as all the instagram Mums I followed seemed to be in and out of baby groups constantly.
I found that the more pressure I put on myself to attend certain activities, the less likely I was to actually do them, as I can pretty believably talk myself out of anything that feels like a chore! In the end, all it took for me to try new things was just to relax about it. It sounds so easy, and yet I found this incredibly difficult! If you find a friendly group that works for you, stick with it. If you can’t be bothered with any sort of social interaction, just go to the park. Occasionally we are both too tired or ill to go anywhere, so we just have a quiet day at home with toys. Whatever you end up doing, make sure it works for you and your baby. Don’t take my advice if it doesn’t make any sense to you. It’s about your baby and what suits them.
These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned since being a stay at home Mum. I’m sure there are lots more things I’ll come up with after I finish this blog entry, but the main message behind all of these is that we are all just doing our best, and it’s okay if something doesn’t work for you: you can just try something else. Oh, and I almost forgot…
Lesson 4: Try to enjoy it, but don’t expect it to be fun all the time.
Not every moment will be fun. There will be times of high stress and challenging days, but if you can sit down now and then and think, ‘I had a really good day today’, then you’re doing just as well as most people. You can do this!