parents

"Absolutely nothing about being in the workforce prepared me for motherhood."

Kate with her family

Every day at 8.50am an alarm goes off on my phone. It is an alert that flashes up with the words- “Happiness is not place. It is the journey we take. Be happy today.”

I know. Crazy right? That I need a daily reminder to be happy. Like a reminder to attend an appointment or remember a friend’s birthday. The alarm is set in the morning. The part of the day I find the most difficult. My husband has left for work and I am alone in the house with the kids.

The words are indicative of the place where my head and my heart are so often not. The here and the now. Today. I’m always looking forward and looking towards tomorrow. When the kids are older. When we have completed the renovations. When I lose a little more weight. When we have a little more money. When life becomes easier. When. When. When. Then. Then I will be happy.

My husband gave me the words about 18 months ago. It was during a particular tough time in my life and I was drowning. I had given up work indefinitely to become a stay at home Mum. We had moved interstate. I’d left my career, my friends and entire social network. All that I knew and all that I thought, made me who I was. We were renovating our home. I had just given birth to my second child, a boy. Who. Would. Not. Sleep. I found being a stay at home mum incredibly hard. And I struggled big time with who I now was. Now that I no longer had a job title.

I had returned to full time work eight months after giving birth to my first child. So after my second, I was yearning to have a longer period at home. I wanted this life. To be a stay at home Mum. My husband and I had directed our lives so that it could happen. But when reality set it – wow! Are you kidding me? I was in shock. Why hadn’t anyone told me? I’d found one child so much easier in comparison.

I struggled on the day to day front in being able to get the kids fed, dressed and out the door but I also struggled in an internal way. I wanted to wear my CV on my shirt. I wanted to scream that I was more than this crazy lady with the bed hair and two children hanging off her, who was so obviously struggling. And will I ever be more than this again?

The thought haunted me.

Kate

A slow but steady resentment began to grow for my husband. As he left for work each day. He was able to drive to work in peace. He still got to wear nice clothes. He still got to use his brain. Continue his career. Have uninterrupted conversations. And yet he was still their father. He still got the title. “It’s sooooo hard…” I would whine to him. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done!”

But is it the hardest thing I’ve ever done? It’s a convenient line… but really? Seven years ago I nursed my Mum as she died in the most horrific way. Is it that hard? Being at home every day raising our healthy, beautiful children? Nope. Not even close. But isolating? Yes. Lonely? Yes. Draining? Yes. Unrelenting? Yes. And frightening? Oh yes.

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In my earlier life I did not need a daily reminder to be happy. In my earlier life the rewards were instant and constant. A nod of agreement during a meeting. A thank you or well done from the boss. The stimulation of working through a problem. Pay in my account every fortnight. More pay as my responsibilities grew. In my earlier life I received many emails, daily. One hundred people wanting to tell me something. Communicating with me.

My phone rang in my earlier life. Out of habit, once at home, I kept my phone close – just in case. I checked and rechecked my emails. Nope. No one but online retail shopping sales.

I sometimes think the last 13 years in the workforce were far more detrimental to my ability to now cope as a Mum than they should have been. I became an adult in its presence. But it never prepared me for children. 13 years in the workforce conditioned me to feel happy and rewarded when 100 people were watching. When the rewards
were instant.

So, how now to feel happy, self fulfilled and rewarded without the applause? How do I leave that behind? How do I be content without it? Recognition was so important. But how about when there are only three little people watching. Where’s my recognition now?

“I do need reminding.”

But what a privilege to be able to say no thanks, I wont work for the next few years and I’ll stay at home with my children. What an absolute privilege to be able to say no to an income and survive. What has become clear however is that work did not simply provide me a wage every week. Who knew? It provided me an instant social network, an ability to think, discuss and communicate, exposure to news and current affairs, daily interaction, daily challenges, daily stimulation and daily reward. It gave me dinner time conversation with my husband. It gave me confidence. Without work.

Well, I don’t just miss the cash.

18 months and another healthy, beautiful child later the alarm still goes off on my phone. Am I happy? Absolutely. But I do need reminding. And it gets me through. Through the long days with the children when I am lonely but not alone. To be honest, I still struggle to get out the door. I still look around for the standing ovation on those rare occasions when I have the kids dressed, out the door, into the car and to our destination on time without screaming or stomping of feet by me or them. But I don’t find myself looking ahead so often and I don’t struggle with who I was or who I may or may not be down the track.

Because to three little people, I am Mum. And I now have the confidence to be able to say, right now that is, (and maybe always will be) enough.

Kate is currently a full time, stay at home Mum.  She is a member of the Australian Federal Police but has been on extended leave since 2010.

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