I’ve changed a lot in those two years. In ways I didn’t expect, and ways that I maybe could have expected. I hope that some of the sharp corners are smoothing themselves off, part of growing older, part of being mindful of how I am as a mother. This includes thinking about the areas in which I want to be different from my own mum. In some ways I take after my dad more, so for example I will naturally tend towards not worrying about things as much as she did, hallelujah. But I do get stressed and flustered like she does, not all the time, just when I’m overstretched and tired.
One big thing is to prioritise taking care of myself more. Looking back on the first year, I wish I’d been more matter of fact about what my own needs were and how to make sure they were met. It can mean asking when you don’t want to, and that is something I find hard. It can mean justifying why your needs should trump someone else’s, which I also find hard. It means accepting your limits sit somewhere below where you want them to be, which again, I find hard.
When I was pregnant with the little dude, my husband was looking for a new job, and we were talking about the whole working hours problem inherent in big law and how to manage it. He left one big firm for another, after trying for a few in-house roles for which he was still too inexperienced. When he moved to the new firm, I remember saying “Look, no-one is ever going to tell you to work less hard, no-one is ever going to tell you to go home early. You have to set those boundaries. And that’s hard but you have to take responsibility for it or you’re going to crash and burn in five or ten years. It’s just the nature of the beast. And setting those boundaries is the first step in changing the system.” (He is way better at setting those boundaries now).
What I said to him about corporate law is also true of motherhood. No-one else is going to set those boundaries for you. Sure your partner or your parents or your mother in law might say something like “sit down, I’ll play with the baby, you have a cup of tea” – but that’s small fry. It’s really hard though, because it’s still very true (despite decades of feminists talking about how this is a problem) that the buck ends with the mum when it comes to making sure the kids have all their needs met. The perfect mother is one who has very few needs of her own, and who carefully manages to fit them in around her kids (#metime!). Just like the perfect employee is one who zealously springs into overtime because ohmygollygosh they just love the work so much! Both of those types of people are a fiction.
Realising that I had to set those boundaries also meant realising that I could set those boundaries, and that I might as well do so firmly and without prevaricating. I notice how much better I am with the little dude when I’m well-rested and have been eating well and getting some time to do things that are not paid work or house work or childcare. Things run more smoothly at home when I’m not spreading myself too thin. At the same time, it’s always going to be bloody difficult to feel like you’re the person at the nexus of competing needs, setting those boundaries is always going to be complicated, a building project that requires constant adjustments. And I’m about to add another baby to the mix! Eeek.