Articulating the ambivalence

I’ve struggled to figure out how I feel about being a full-time stay at home parent, since I feel so lucky to be one and most days I can’t believe this is my life and yet, there is something else too. A restlessness, a boredom, an itch. I didn’t know how to reconcile these two feelings, how to articulate it so it made sense to me. Over the weekend, I figured it out. It’s simple, really. Sometimes I overthink things, try to make them more complicated than they are, including caveats and disclaimers until all true meaning is lost. But it’s not complicated, although the solution might be. It’s also not mutually exclusive the way I assumed. There is no ‘but’ between these statements.

I love being at home with Emma.

I hate not working.

(Yeah, not exactly ground-breaking stuff. And I know I’m not the first person to feel this way, although I’m possibly the first person to take so long to figure out that’s what I’m feeling.)

Yes, I’m one of those people who don’t consider being a stay at home parent a job. It’s work of course, sometimes the hardest work of all, but it’s the work of life. It’s work the way house chores are work, the way gardening is work, the way marriage or caring for a sick relative is work. It’s not work in the way my usual job is work.

Some people – lots of people – would probably disagree with me there, but I can’t help it. This is how I feel. Perhaps I am lucky, because like many women my age living in Canberra, I have spent my twenties working. And apart from the rather menial positions in retail and admin that got me through uni and living in Edinburgh, for the most part I’ve been working in good jobs. They paid well, they came with some nice perks (Christmas shut-down? Yes please), the hours were good, and so forth. But more than those logistics, my jobs in the APS have also been intellectually challenging, they have demanded skills and knowledge and understanding and relationships that I’ve had to develop over time. I’m not sure I ever appreciated that before now. (Maybe the ILS is more than just hilarious bureaucratic jargon after all?)

Apart from those jobs, I’ve also spent my twenties studying and travelling. It took me six years to finish my degree – three years full-time, then a year off, then two years part-time while I worked full-time (now that was work). (I even attempted to do honours for a semester before I had to admit defeat – statistics beat me and I will never be a qualified psychologist).  Then the travelling, oh the travelling. We lived in Edinburgh (during which time I was unemployed for a number of weeks, and yes I hated it then too), I’ve been on planes and boats and trains and motorbikes and snowboards and I’ve had to communicate with all sorts of people speaking all sorts of languages. So between uni and working and travelling, I feel like my brain has been pretty switched on for my adult life. Or rather – when I wanted to switch it on, I could, and switching off was also an option for weekends and holidays.

But now, my default seems for my brain to be mostly switched off and even when I want to switch on, my options are limited and it doesn’t feel as easy as it used to. I forget words. Sometimes I say things and when they come out, they sound wrong. They are awkward or condescending or plain jibberish. I have to write the most tedious to-do lists you’ve ever seen, just so I can cross things off and feel productive – tricking myself into thinking of this as my job. I started a blog! I shy away from conversations about even slightly difficult or controversial topics because I have lost confidence in my ability to make an argument or articulate myself. I am sick of talking about babies all the time but if you asked me what else I want to talk about I wouldn’t be able to say. I was obsessed with Emma’s sleeping habits for months because a) she fed well so I didn’t have to worry about that but b) mostly because the psychology student and worker bee in me needed something to think about, something to research and discuss and experiment with. I couldn’t just be.

(And no, fixing the vegie garden or attacking the enormous to-do list associated with our almost-original-condition house is not going to help. I am already keeping a baby alive and a household functioning on a basic level, and that is enough domesticity for me.)

Luckily though, despite the fact that my new boss is kind of moody, my hours are about 100% worse, there is no ‘shut-down’ or sick leave, and there is a lot of poo involved, I think I love being at home with our lovely baby even more than I hate not working. I may be paid in smiles – but what a smile. She is happy and healthy, growing just the way she should. Her face lights up when I walk into the room – no other boss has ever thought I was as great as she does. It is fascinating watching her grow up, and she makes me laugh every day. So I guess even though it seems counter-intuitive, it makes sense that I’ve been told more than once how much more relaxed I am now. Someone even told my mother that I look younger, even though children are supposed to age you even more than dealing with FaHCSIA does. And it’s true, some days I feel 1000 years old, as any parent will understand. But it’s comforting to know that there is something about this non-intellectual life, this jeans-wearing, picnic-going, daytime-TV-watching, afternoon-naps-on-the-couch-having (this is sounding a lot like uni, actually, without all most of the drinking) life that agrees with me. And that is enough, for now.

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