Losing My Mind On Mat Leave

It’s 5 months since I started my maternity leave with my second (and last!) child. I have now reached the stage where I go beyond disappointment and right into rage on a Friday, when Eamon and Ruth present This Morning. It feels like they are constantly on the verge of an argument and through every contrived laugh, you can almost hear Ruth fume “Oh just fuck off, Eamon…hahaha.” Their real life marriage just isn’t a patch on the TV marriage of Holly and Phil. You know, the one we all aspire to. The one where you don’t have to have the obligatory sex at birthdays, Christmas and August bank holiday. The one where you genuinely laugh together every day. The one where you aren’t a nag and he picks his dirty socks up off the bedroom floor.

I think it’s clear from the amount of thought I have given to This Morning that it’s getting to the point that I have lost all sense of myself and what is actually important in life. So should I really consider going back to work now and is there ever a right time to go back, if at all?

In all honesty, it’s actually more financially worthwhile for me to stay at home. Childcare is expensive. It is easy to understand why
so many families are now opting to have a stay at home parent, when nursery fees amount to more than your take home pay each month. Even when my eldest gets his free childcare hours in April next year, austerity will fully hit our household. However, I’m not sure I can put a price on my mental health.
When you have children, you finally fully realise what a fundamentally selfish bastard you are. Even the reasons we have children in the first place are selfish. I had children  in order to experience the joy and love that comes with parenthood and probably, if I am honest, to validate my own existence. I felt the need to feel needed. However, I didn’t have even the slightest idea of how bloody gruelling it is. Some days, I would rather be on a raft at sea with Bear Grylls.  Drinking my own piss and performing a DIY enema can seem preferable to staying at home all day with a 2-year-old who won’t sleep, who doesn’t want his blue shoes on, who wants another bowl of Weetabix (what kind of kid demands Weetabix instead of chocolate?!?), who suddenly remembers that he had a graze on his knee three weeks ago and is now wailing in excruciating pain at the memory (this child will be on Oscar winner in years to come). Add to the mix a grunting four month old with a floppy larynx (yep, that’s a thing), who refuses feeds and requires me to spend an excessive amount of time trying to help him poo. It can be exhausting. And don’t even get me started on the state of the house and a general lack of ironing.

That’s not to say I’m a career girl. I gave up on any journalistic ambitions I had half way through my second year at university. I spent my 20s trying on new career hats (figuratively, not literally. I have a weird shaped head) I wasn’t particularly great at any of them and I came to the conclusion that I am far too thin skinned and care too much about what people think to be a ball breaking business woman. I work to live, not live to work. But that doesn’t mean I want to stay at home covered in baby sick and doing crafts. (Incidentally, I never do crafts. I’m more dangerous with scissors and glue than my kids are)

I like adult company. All adults. Even those without children. Actually, I especially like those without children. I like weeing in peace. I like to feel cerebrally challenged. I like to feel I have some financial independence. From an early age, I promised myself I would stay married because I want to be, not because I financially need to be. Despite my lack of major ambition, I still feel the effects of the ‘glass ceiling’; I would like to earn more but due to the cost of childcare, I need a very set working pattern and few jobs further up the ladder can facilitate this. It is massively frustrating. I’m not an idiot. I have potential which I would like to go at least some way to fulfil but, like many other women, I am restricted because of my choice to have children. The key to that sentence is ’my choice’ so maybe I should put up and shut up but that’s a whole other conversation.

So how am I using maternity leave? Probably not very wisely and maybe it’s my own fault that I feel like my brain is seeping out of my ears. Baby groups aren’t really my bag. After going to a few, I feel like Sharon in Catastrophe. (If you haven’t seen it, do watch. It’s hilarious) I’m not great at meeting people. Despite being seemingly gregarious, I lack confidence with new people. I try to be a nice human but eventually, despite all my attempts to stifle it, my real personality comes out. After that, it’s game over. Having a massively inappropriate sense of humour and swearing a lot doesn’t really endear me to people. Plus, I’m not one of the good mums. You know, the ones that bake with the kids and attachment parent. The ones who don’t put their eldest child in nursery four days a week even though they are on mat leave. The ones who don’t give the kids ready meals now and again. The ones who don’t bugger off to Alton Towers with their brother and his mate, WITHOUT their kids. (Children under 4 do not need to know that Cbeebiesland is an actual place) I have done a baby massage course, we have a season ticket for the local petting farm, I occasionally go to baby bounce at the local library and I have signed up for a baby sensory course this month so I am not totally anti decent parenting. I just can’t live and breathe it.

I do love being a mum. My children are hilarious. I love watching my eldest son telling stories to his baby brother. Stories that don’t have a beginning or a middle but conclude very loudly with “THE END.”  I love how my baby chuckles at his big brother, even though big brother is squeezing baby brother’s cheeks until his eyes almost pop out. However, I just can’t bring myself to be defined by my children. I didn’t think I particularly liked who I was before I had children and the change is inevitable but I can’t let Jemma Anglesea Before Babies die completely. I have taken up running again in a bid to reconnect with my old self. I have even started to brush my hair again and every so often I throw on the odd bit of lippy. (Fairly sure that Rob thinks I have started having an affair. He needn’t worry. I couldn’t be arsed shaving my legs on anything more than a weekly basis again for anyone.) Maybe being an Adult™ is about balance. I am normally an all or nothing person and my irrational fury at Eamon and Ruth is a fairly good sign that balance is something I am missing. For me, balance is going back to work.

Going back to work is something I inevitably feel guilty about. I should want to stay at home and feed my kids organic food and teach them French from 6 months old but I don’t. I am fairly sure I would feel guilty if I stayed at home permanently, worrying if I was stimulating them enough. After all, parenthood is basically about guilt. That and being knackered constantly. I do want to love the boys and care for them and bring them up to be happy, stable, kind men. But I might actually do that better with a (tired) smile on my face. Working full time over four days will be exhausting but I will appreciate my time with them without losing sight of myself as a human being in my own right.

Keeping a little human alive and happy is the biggest challenge anyone can face and is without question the most important job in the history of the universe. But so is self-preservation and only a (semi) sane person can do it well. Whatever gets you through, do it. Take 6 months off, take a year. Take the rest of your life. If that’s where you find your sanity, you should absolutely do it. I will enjoy bouncing my baby at the library and going to baby sensory. I will try and integrate with other mums. I will attempt to blend in with the good ones. I will also enjoy Phil and Holly coming back onto This Morning next week. (Be gone Eamon and Ruth. Go and have that massive row about Eamon’s smart arse comments that I know you are dying to have) But on 3rd April next year, I will also enjoy going back to work and feeling like a person. I think my boys will enjoy that too.

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