When I became a stay at home parent it just sort of happened, it wasn't part of any master plan, or anything I'd been particularly dreaming of. Life pushed me in that direction and it seemed to be best for my family. So, without any idea of what I was letting myself in for I watched the mums I knew return to work while I settled into life at home with a toddler. A life of ups and downs and so much learning, and here's a few things I learnt.
The first lesson hit home quite quickly, being a stay at home parent is not like being on maternity leave. Inevitably a lot of the parents you meet along the way return to work and the regular meetups, the messages about coffee and the general chat start to disappear. While you try to remember who's around on which day, just getting out of the house becomes more challenging too as the baby who used to sleep in your arms turns into a walking, talking and demanding human. Before you know it you haven't spoken to another parent in a week and you're carting around a selection of toys and enough snacks to create a picnic at a moment's notice.
With less time for a real conversation, I also learnt that being a stay at home parent is a reasonably lonely job. I might have had a bit of a headstart being completely out of my depth in a group of girls through maternity leave, I don't even know how to dress like a girl some days, but I'm pretty sure all stay at home parents have felt lonely at some point. There's no more sneaking off for a coffee break and a chat, catching up with someone at the printer, or saying good morning to a team full of people. It's just you and a tiny person that talks at you, or uses you as a translation service.
It's not all bad though, I did learn to cherish the strangest of moments, like the times that I can actually go to the toilet by myself. Yep, I did just say I cherish going to the toilet, I'll even sit on the toilet that bit longer just to let the moment of peace sink in. Plus, there's the times I'm stuck in the car because the toddler falls asleep and I squeeze in some online shopping, or maybe even that rare bit of reading. As well as the housework I'll do to escape my toddler while someone else is looking after him, I'll clean the whole house if I have to because I'll enjoy every minute of peace.
In fact, I've learnt time is more valuable than I realised, although I'm still a trainee when it comes to utilising it. Every moment my toddler sits at the table to eat, sits and watches his favourite things on television, or happily plays are precious. They don't happen as much as you think, especially once you've ditched the high chair to let your little one have their independence.
When it comes to time, there's something far more important though, because it's a little easier to count on once your night wake ups reduce (let's face it, they never stop) and your bed routine is currently working. That precious time is the evening, the time when my child is finally in bed. While the grandparents visiting watch sadly as my child heads off to sleep, I am having a mini party because until I go to bed, I now get to be me. The completely unfiltered version of me, talking about whatever I want, watching whatever I want, doing whatever I want, who knew being me would get pushed so far back in my priorities. It might have taken me a long time to appreciate this time, but now that I've found it, it's almost a shame to actually have to sleep myself.
That's not even half the lessons, I haven't even touched on the importance of coffee, sneaking chocolate without my toddler noticing, making my toddler think bath time was his idea, or the importance of only showing my child movies I can tolerate. None of that compares to the biggest lesson I've learnt and that is that there's no easy option when it comes to being a parent.
I've seen posts from women telling other women that they owe themselves the chance to go back to work. These posts really get to me because once you have children, life is all about whatever works best for the whole family. Yes, it's tough getting used to dropping your child off every day, but it's tough having every waking moment with them. It's heartbreaking walking away from your little one crying, though it's tough dealing with every tear and tantrum at home by yourself. It might have been difficult to decide on the right childcare, but it's difficult to be in charge of everything for your child, from learning activities to nap times.
You don't owe yourself or your child anything other than love and making the right decisions for you as a family. Now I'm learning to own that I look after my child full time, learning to stop justifying myself. I might have wished things were different but I did what I needed to do and I'm proud of myself because it's a tough job, but I'm doing it.