I remember counting the days until maternity leave. I marked off the hours to “freedom” on a calendar above my work desk. I couldn’t wait to be a stay at home mum, a lady of leisure, and finally stop having to work so darn hard every day. 

Turns out being a stay at home mum was the hardest work I’d ever done. But nobody even noticed the sweat pouring from my brow. 

I was constantly told how fortunate I was to be living the “dream” to be home with my babies. That I was privileged to not have to “work”. People thought nothing of asking me to run errands or mind their little ones, because I did not work. My house was expected to be clean, because I did not work. My kids were supposed to be sleeping through the night, toilet trained, organically fed little angels… because I did not work.

As I struggled with a baby, two toddlers and a shopping trolley, the ladies at the supermarket would smile and remind me that these were the happiest years of my life. At the checkout a teenage boy would ask how my day had been and my eyes would well up because I felt like someone finally cared. He’d enquire what I’d been up to that morning and I’d hesitate, wondering if he’d be interested in the standoff I had with my toddler about the seatbelt.

In the end I’d mumble “nothing much”. It felt like the truth.

The invisible work of a stay at home mum

Later, I’d feel guilty as I considered the well-intentioned “happiest years of my life” reminders. Because I didn’t feel happy a lot of the time. Mostly I felt exhausted. Some days I felt depressed. Worst of all I felt invisible. All the evidence of my hard work was erased the second I completed it. 

If I fed the baby, they were hungry again.

If I changed a nappy, the toddler pooped in it.

If I cooked dinner, it disappeared in five minutes.

If I cleaned a toilet, someone peed on the floor. 

If I read 28 stories, there were demands for the 29th.

If I pulled an all-nighter, no-one gave a damn.

At the end of each day I lay down exhausted, feeling like I’d accomplished very little. My husband slept because he “worked”.  I took the nightshift because I did “nothing”.  Because dealing with toddler tantrums is a breeze on three hours sleep. Because who needs sleep when all you do is stay at home, breastfeed and watch Oprah?

We sympathise with people under the pump at the office. But to admit we are struggling with staying at home? That’s practically a moral failing for a woman. And so, SAHMs smile and nod when they are told how fortunate they are. And they cry when no-one is watching. Because in a society that values money and success, they sometimes feel worthless without “work”.

It gets easier. We promise.

To all those SAHMs sobbing into their pillows while simultaneously feeling like they don’t really have anything to complain about … it gets better, I promise. I’ve just completed the baby years, my kids can all poop in the toilet. Some have headed off to school and as I watch them walk in the gates with their enormous backpacks and I’m starting to get the sense that I haven’t actually been doing “nothing” all these years after all.

I’ve been raising these little humans, an incredibly important “work” that often feels like cleaning up never ending-mess.

If you know a SAHM, please don’t remind them that they are blessed. They already know how fortunate they are to have those beautiful babies. Instead, remember they are working their arses off like everyone else. And deep down, they just wish someone would notice, instead of acting like they were on some kind of extended holiday. 

We see you stay at home mum. You deserve a raise, a promotion, a pat on the back, a full-night’s sleep. An uninterrupted conversation with another adult. A meal that is still hot, a poop in the toilet all on your lonesome.  A freakin’ parade. And you have permission to flip the bird at anyone who asks “So… what did you do all day?”

Where to Get Help

If you are concerned about post-natal depression or anxiety, or about someone you love, then speak with your GP or health professional. You can also call Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or your local community or emergency mental health service for advice.

Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) has a Mental Health Checklist online tool that allows expectant and new parents to assess their emotional wellbeing.

Additionally, the websites below may be helpful.

Please, know that if you are struggling, you are not alone. You are not failing and you are not unworthy of support. For the sake of your baby, your family and yourself, speak up and seek help.

Author

Jillian Berry is the exhausted mother of four spirited daughters. Once a journo and editor, she now enjoys torturing her children with zucchini. When she’s not searching for her phone charger, she can be found trying to remember her password, which she only reset yesterday. She fantasizes about escaping to a remote island with her Kindle and a giant jar of Nutella. She’s also a (provisional) psychologist who’d love to make the world a better place, if only she could find the energy.

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