Our daughter was born and all of a sudden all those moments of time to myself that I’d never realised were such a big part of my day evaporated. Goodbye solitude, I’ve got company.
You don’t appreciate how many parts of your life constitute alone time until they reduce down to seconds grabbed between feeds, cuddles, and attempts to persuade your child not to dive head first off the sofa.
I look back on all those times I went to the toilet without somebody there to squish my tummy. On all those showers I had where I didn’t feel the need to poke my head out of the cubicle every 30 seconds to shout “ARE YOU OK?” to the little person in the cot in the next room. On all those train journeys I spent reading a book rather than supplying snacks to the small dictator in the pram, perched on the edge of my seat, waiting to see which of the items I’ve selected will be deemed acceptable today. (Fruit, mummy? Really? Try again.) Did I appreciate all that freedom? Of course I didn’t.
Nobody appreciates time until something changes your relationship with it, and becoming a parent definitely does that.
But while I find the lack of freedom hard, having such limited windows to myself has forced me to make the most of the time I do have more than I ever did before.
I’ve learnt to snatch moments to myself, however brief. Ten minutes with Friends on in the background while Leon gives our toddler a bath and I cook dinner. Forty minutes on my laptop on a Sunday morning before everybody else wakes up. Thirty minutes slumped on the sofa on a Friday evening in the gap between my return from work and Leon’s arrival with our daughter after nursery. I don’t mind admitting that I LEG IT home for that sit down. You’ve got to get your rest any way you can in this game.
When time feels so precious, you don’t let yourself waste it. I now know just how much it’s possible to get done in half an hour. Want the house tidied, a tray of brownies baked, and a week’s worth of washing put away? Get a parent whose toddler is taking a nap on the case – and they’ll still have time to negotiate you a new mortgage deal, too. I’ve been amazed and delighted by how the limits on my time have helped me focus my mind and get sh*t done, because I simply don’t have time to fanny about.
I’ve also changed how I think about how I use my days off work. I used to think annual leave had to be used for a holiday or a trip away, or at least for a fancy meal out. And of course it’s great to keep some for those treats, but now I also keep a handful to do the things I can’t do the rest of the time. To sit in a café and write a blog. To go to the cinema by myself. To listen to a podcast with swearing in it without worrying that I’m going to damage the next generation.
I adore my girl and value our time together more than anything else in the world. Being her mum is also the hardest work I’ve ever done, so I do my best to take moments to myself where I can, so I can give her all I’ve got when we’re together.
Because we’re together a lot – most of the time in fact – which is exactly how I want it to be. Nonetheless, one of the other things I’ve found most surprising about life as a parent is how lonely it can feel, despite the fact that you’re in company almost constantly.
It’s the weight of the responsibility, I think. On the logistical front, it’s being the one in charge of deciding everything that we’ll do, when we’ll do it, and what we’ll need to have with us so that we survive the day/avoid significant social embarrassment.
And on the emotional side, the desperation that (when it’s just the two of us) only I feel to get things right for her can feel a bit isolating, too. All I want is to make her happy and to create days that make her feel loved, inspired, amused, interested, and, let’s not forget, sufficiently pooped so that she’ll sleep well, for all our sakes. It’s a lot to be responsible for getting out of a day, and when things don’t go to plan – which is all the time, by the way – it can get you down.
I am of course not on my own. My husband is just as much a parent as I am. But for two days of the week, he’s at work and I’m at home looking after our daughter. And on the days when I do go to work, I do the majority of the childcare around it, because he works longer hours than I do. As a result (and because we live in the society that we do), it’s me who takes responsibility for most of the bits and pieces that keep us going day to day. The meals we eat, the endless supply of milk our daughter requires, the admin that gets our bills paid and keeps the roof firmly over our heads, and so many more things that find their way on and off the ever-growing list that lives inside my brain.
I am incredibly happy and grateful for our life and feel appreciated for my efforts, I just sometimes feel a bit alone in my role, too. I expect we both do.
But as our daughter it getting older (all of a sudden she’ll turn two next month) and she’s getting better and better at communicating, she’s taking an increasingly active role in our time together, and it’s making me feel so much more… accompanied in everything that we do.
She can now express opinions (which, of course, can be inconvenient/tricky to manage, but let’s focus on the positives for now, shall we?), so she can tell me what she thinks of the ideas I have for us. The other day I told her we were going to the farm and she said “Yay! Yarm!” and it made the whole trip that bit more joyous because we were in on the decision to go together.
For a while, parenting feels like something you do ‘to’ your child, rather than with them, because you just have to make decisions on your own. It can be a lonely job, being in charge all the time, so it’s nice to start getting some feedback. It’s most definitely not always positive, but when it’s good, it makes the meltdowns worth facing. And every meltdown teaches me more about how to empathise and communicate with a child who still has so little control over her world.
When you’re expecting a baby, you understand that you’ll probably feel pain during the birth, tiredness after sleepless nights, and a relentless need to go for a wee every 20 minutes for the rest of your life, but you don’t think about what responsibility for your child will feel like in practice. I didn’t realise how much effort I’d have to put into feeling content as an individual (as well as a mum), but I’m glad I have as it’s made all the difference.
Though a lack of time to myself can be trying, knowing that I’m making every moment I do get count helps me feel like I’ve had a break, even if it’s a short one. And when the pangs of mum-life loneliness kick in, I’m lifted by how much more confident I now feel to make decisions for us, to try new things, and to talk about what a roller coaster motherhood can be.