I remember closing the front door after kissing my husband goodbye as he went off to work for the first time after we had our baby, it was terrifying. My parents who were visiting for 2 weeks had gone home the day before. I was alone…with a tiny little baby. By myself. Now what?
For someone who considers herself a pretty organized and well scheduled type A control freak, the first little while after having my son was like a major shock to my system. I don’t know about you, but my expectations and my reality of the situation were not exactly the same, not by a long shot. I had the idea that everything that had to do with the baby would be so natural and easy, he would be on a schedule in no time, he would be sleeping overnight in his own crib within 3 months, he wouldn’t be fussy or cry unless he was wet, hungry or tired…(I can hear you laughing from here!!). Zero percent of those things happened and zero percent of all the other things “I thought” would happen did too. That’s when my usually self-confident, in control, always optimistic personality changed, what if I couldn’t do this? What if I failed at being a mom…on day 1?
Inadequate is the only word that I can think of that sums up the entire situation. I felt inadequate as a mother and as a result as a wife, friend, etc. Here’s what’s easy: reading all the fun books and websites about being a parent (I was very picky about the things I read as I had no interest in being scared out of my wits prior to the baby arriving), registering for the stuff you think you need (that you really don’t) for the baby, shopping, planning, and socializing. Here’s what’s not easy: having a baby and everything that comes after that like: not being able to breastfeed for as long as planned because you don’t produce enough milk for your child, having a baby who only cat naps or doesn’t sleep through the night. EVER. You guys, parenting is no joke, it’s not part time and it’s not at your convenience. I was at least smart enough to know that much since I had a lot of friends with kids already and I saw what they were doing. But being able to walk away from someone else’s life back into your own is a totally different animal as you well know.
I’m the kind of person who likes everything in order, I don’t mind a mess, but when it’s ready to be cleaned up, everything goes back to where it belongs. I thought I would have time during the day to get the apartment cleaned up, get myself showered, take the baby outside for some fresh air, make dinner every night, etc. (again, I hear you laughing…). That’s impossible with an infant, it’s his way or the highway. If 2 of the things on that list got done during a day it was an accomplishment! Hell, it’s 9 years later and I still don’t shower every day, that’s right, you heard me. I do brush my teeth twice daily, so at least there’s that.
I decided to take some time off when I had him so after many working years, I was now a stay at home mom without a deadline of going back. We moved to a new neighborhood when he was 8 months old and it was isolating and lonely at times. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great bonding experience for us and I wouldn’t change that for the world, but when you’re a social person like I am, it’s hard. I missed my friends and co-workers and the daily interaction with adults. I was jealous that my husband got to head to work every day while I was at home. I was tired, no, exhausted and I was taking it out on everyone around me. Something had to give, and fast!
Everyone has a different remedy for their particular situation and that’s great because no 2 kids are alike and no parenting situation is either. For me the shift happened when my husband was able to take his 1 month of paternity leave (a benefit I think should be mandatory at every company by the way). He split it up, 2 weeks when the baby was around 3 months old and 2 weeks when he was 8 months old (he had a year to use it up). It was a lifesaver! We got to have some real quality time as a family and even though he was super dad whenever he was home on a regular night, having him around for some consistent time was helpful. It opened his eyes to what my day in and day out routine was and made him more aware of my needs, the baby’s needs and our overall family needs. I also decided to go back to work when the baby was 10 months old. We found a nanny and I got to go back to the job I enjoyed with the people I loved to work with. Being able to have the ability to make that decision for myself and my son was empowering. I knew it was the right thing to do not only financially for us, but socially as well. He needed to be around other kids at playgroups, and I needed to be contributing to our family without the guilt.
What I know now is that the feeling of inadequacy will always be there in some way shape or form. It’s the way you choose to overcome it that changes you. I chose to face mine head on and find ways to work around it. A change in my schedule, brunch with a friend, or maybe getting a manicure could do wonders. You can’t be everything to everyone and once you understand that, the better off you are. Trying to be perfect all the time is more exhausting than anything else. So what if there’s a mess on the floor, so what if there are dishes in the sink or the bed isn’t made right away…there are soccer games and birthday parties and school events and friends and family to spend time with, all that stuff is more important. Acknowledging the fact that you’re doing the best you can on any given day is enough. Sometimes just brushing your teeth is enough.