Q: After years of career success, I'm now the stay-at-home mum of Robbie (2½), and Mia and Ava (10 months). I love my beautiful children to bits, but I often feel trapped, miserable, and a failure. When James gets home from his demanding job I ambush him on the doorstep because I'm so desperate for adult company. Sometimes, he gets cranky, because he wants time to unwind from his own stressful day, and I get weepy, which causes him to shut down. I fear losing him because I'm boring, negative and unattractive.
A: Research into human happiness has revealed the unhappiest phase of life is the one you are currently enduring. We undertake this challenge because we want the richness of having a family, but in the early years, it can feel like the epitome of delayed gratification.
New parenthood can be particularly trying for people who have been competent, high achievers.
New parenthood can be particularly trying for people who have been competent, high-achievers, because they are used to being in control, and infants are an unpredictable force of nature.
Be kind to yourself. You are facing the biggest challenge of your life, and you are doing the best you can. Do not beat yourself up in the belief that other mums are doing it better. Staying sane is more important than having a spotless house. It would be good to talk to your GP to make sure that you do not have post-natal depression, which can be devastating.
Popular and commercial images of radiant parents with adorable cherubs are often nothing like the reality of caring for the relentless, unreasonable bundle of survival instincts we call a baby. The reality is often boring and thankless.
Remind yourself that it is in the interests of commercial businesses to exploit your insecurity. You are likely to buy their products if you are convinced it would be neglectful not to, or if you lack confidence in your housekeeping skills, ("What does your loo say about you?").
Practise eliminating words like "must", "ought", "should" and "got to" from your vocabulary. These words trigger guilt and anxiety, and imply that there is a standard that you are constantly failing to reach. If these imperatives are coming from your family, or from friends, try not to buy into it. Their advice might be well-meaning, but only you can know how to raise your children.
Stop looking at the bigger picture, and avoid comparing your current lifestyle with the one you were living before. Similarly, banish stories about how you will never return to the old you. You cannot know that, and the future will take care of itself. All you have to do is navigate the "now". This moment is the only reality, and it is often the stories we make up that cause us the most distress.
Being a "stay-at-home" parent can be very lonely. Some women suffer from "baby brain" and feel like they have become dumb, and out of touch with the big issues. Others realise that they have nothing very interesting to add to a conversation.
Find somewhere to go at least once a week, even if the logistics are daunting. Join a local playgroup, meet up with friends who also have kids, and go to story time at the library. Talking to other parents helps you to get things in perspective, and they are interested in the minutiae of baby rearing. They are also a great resource for tips and ideas to make your life easier, and you can get a little space while the children socialise.
Prioritise your own needs. Self-preservation is not selfishness. When you are sleep-deprived, have almost no alone time, and are permanently on call, it can be too difficult to shower and wash your hair, let alone pay attention to what you wear. Cut yourself some slack.
If you are the parent who works outside the home, and you recognise this situation, try not to feel guilty, inadequate, or resentful. How you both deal with this time is crucial to the future of your relationship. Your patience and kindness are the best support. Give your partner some time, and some attention. The most loving gift can be a regular sleep-in, an hour alone, or 10 minutes of your undivided attention.
Talking to other parents helps you to get things in perspective, and they are interested in the minutiae of baby rearing.
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