The “Off” Days — And Nine Bits of Advice

Who doesn’t ever have a bad day? New parents sometimes do, despite this common belief that motherhood is all about sitting at a park in a state of impenetrable jubilation and tickling or nursing (or both) a giggling infant all day long.

Lots has been written about the challenges new mothers face — related to isolation, hormonal changes, transformed relationships, career adjustments, insomnia, body image, those once-swanky outfits that would look comical now, even if they could miraculously stretch and fit. There is a reason these first months and years are often described as “second puberty.” The bad days don’t affect the loving bond a mother develops with her little one and her joy in motherhood. They do matter when it comes to her bond with herself.

Toothpaste for DInner

Toothpaste for DInner

Nobody likes to talk about bad days for new moms. I sure don’t. It’s uncomfortable. It’s admitting imperfection. It can come across as “negative,” “weak,” or “Cousin Julia has been trying to conceive for years and you sit here b*@ching about your life?! You’ve got too much time on your hands, that’s what you’ve got.”

Or the mom is new to the area.

Or she doesn’t talk about “stuff like that.”

Or she is shy and awkward, as described in this earnest post by Linda Sharps — something I can relate to on my bad days. Sharps writes about “being invisible and sticking out like a sore thumb” at mom-centric functions.

So what does one do on bad days?

A friend recently shared advice by Tim Askew, a businessman, titled Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days and the Entrepreneur. “When I have a very bad day, everything emanates from a dark, bleak, shrunken part of my soul, where I exist only as a miasma of utter insufficiency: That place where dwells the cowed and frightened child, and the cornered rat.” Umm, rats and shrunken bleakness… but you get the idea.

On days like this, Askew recommends, wait it out and avoid big decisions. “‘The only thing I know to do is spend that day just cleaning my toilets,'” he shares his mother’s advice.

That rings true. But moms, especially stay at home moms, must keep at it at all times. A bad day can also suggest that a bigger change is in order.

(For the record, this post is about occasional bad days, not something consistent like post-partum depression, which should absolutely be discussed with a caring professional.)

Last year, when my baby was a newborn, I wrote to my local online parent network. How do people connect their pre-child and post-child lives to feel complete, to have fewer bad days, I asked?

Sometimes we just want to hear, “Hey, I like you. Glad you’re here. You’ll be okay.” That’s kind of what the responses I received from strangers did. Nobody was judgmental. Nobody mentioned Cousin Julia. They were heartfelt beyond expectation, and the mere realization that my challenges were shared made the bad days that much brighter.

As promised in the previous post, I wanted to share these women’s advice, shortened for space. I hope you find it meaningful as well. I’d love to hear how you deal with your funk, too.

Mothers weigh in on bad days and linking the pre-baby and post-baby lifestyles

1. Part-time work and mothers’ groups 

You aren’t alone. Within the space of a year I left a busy government education career, married, moved 2,000 miles from home during my second trimester of pregnancy, and became a mom. It wasn’t easy. What saved me was taking on a new career in writing. (It even allowed me to travel solo back to my old city, delving into familiar work and seeing old friends.) The other thing that made a big difference was two mothers’ groups. I participated often enough that I found a few real friends I clicked with, friends who talked about topics beyond just parenting. All of that took many months to solidify. You’ll find your way.

2. “Me” time, the imperfect house and okay to be bla 

My sister talked about what she called ”the death of the maiden,” almost feeling like she had to kill off the part of herself that got to about 3 p.m. and said ”Okay, I’m done for the day, when is a grownup going to come take care of this baby?”

I feel that a SAHM’s job is, first and foremost, the kids — not the house. So if you are able, I recommend a cleaning crew to take that stress off you, as well as at least one afternoon of babysitting a week, so you can get to the gym or get a pedi or just leave and clear your head for a few hours. Sure, you CAN do without this, but having that time to ”put on your own oxygen mask first” makes you a better, more energetic mom AND wife. Don’t expect too much of yourself. You are gonna feel sorta bleah sometimes and that’s OK. 

3. Accept the bad days — and expect better ones 

Nine months is not a lot of time to prepare. I went through a lot of grief losing my old life when I had a baby. The most loving husband in the world does not really fully understand. The grief will diminish and the joy and comfort will increase. One day you’ll wake up and recognize yourself as someone new.

4. Hobbies and valuing the present 

While having a new baby was everything I had longed for, that meant an adverse impact to my career and distance from some of my non-parent friends. Designate one type of non-parenting activity that brings you enjoyment. For me, it was horseback riding.

I am still close friends with two women friends who have never married or had children. Some of the friends I have made through fellow-mom activities have ”stuck,” now that our kids are adults, but most have not. One day you look up and see that the kids are off to college. Enjoy your children. Hug them every day.

5. Freelancing and nanny sharing

The emotional toll of being a SAHM is intense, particularly if you are accustomed to being in an adult environment. I too have a new baby and a career I care about tremendously. We set up a nanny share at our house. Our son has benefited from the time with his nanny and the other children in the share. We’ve enjoyed getting to know the other parents and we’ve learned a lot from our seasoned nanny. Perhaps you could gain a bit more independence if you and your child build a relationship with a caretaker while you are still in the house.

6. Starting a business and hiring a babysitter

I do not want to go back to work, which is the suggestion these questions so often get answered with. I hated my job, and working in a coffee shop or something just to have adult interaction doesn’t get me what I need, which is to be intellectually stimulated and feel like my work is valued. So that leaves freelancing, volunteering, and creative endeavors.

I’m currently working on a craft that I really enjoy. It took me way too long to hire a regular babysitter and it’s been much better since then. I’m starting to see how a SAHM life could be fulfilling, but it takes having something that is mine and not related to the child. My plan is to create a business, and even if that doesn’t work out, having a plan is helpful to feel like I’m not stuck.

7. All you need is love: Family and friends 

It took me two years to realize what made it extra hard was the social isolation (I’m a SAHM). I seemed to be trapped at home all the time for naps and bedtime, and there was just nobody to talk to. I’d feel like maybe I was depressed, but then family would visit and I’d be super happy. I was just lonely. Moms groups help only a little, but what you really need is family, and barring that, super close friends. It really helps to have someone drop in on you mid-day just to have lunch together, or someone whose house you can barge into at any time and say, ”Here! Hold the baby for five minutes.” It’s a shame that we have so isolated ourselves in this culture that we try to bring up babies in a vacuum.

8. Depression? 

Your body has changed significantly, and your hormones can really do a number on your mental health and well-being. This is nothing to be ashamed of. PPD can show up as late as 18 months later!

9. Volunteer and it takes time

Moving to a completely new place can often take up to two years to adjust and set down new roots. Have you thought of volunteering with an organization or project that is meaningful to you? That would keep your mentally engaged and could serve in the long-term if and when you want to return to the workforce. It would also give you some of your ”self” back. Here’s wishing you possibilities of fulfillment!

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