I remember the day I turned in my notice at work before Jonas arrived. I had SO many expectations of life as a stay-at-home mother. I expected to just have the motivation to keep the house clean at all times. I expected to have dinner ready every night when my husband came home from work. I expected lovely, lazy days with my baby. Playing and reading and relaxing and singing and going out to coffee shops and being all-around amazing.
It’s safe to say that I had unreasonable and irrational expectations of my husband and myself during a very critical point in life and our marriage: the newborn phase. I don’t know where these expectations came from, but I had unreasonable expectations of what we both would have to accomplish during that period of “newborn” — the mystical, unknown, and basically all-around un-plan-able stage in every baby’s life.
I thought I would immediately know how to do “do it all,” even after a gargantuan life change. And I also expected a lot from my husband. Because, for some reason, I thought that he would just know what I needed from him, especially when I didn’t even know what I needed from him.
When I think about those first six months of Jonas’ life, all I can remember DOING is sitting on the couch and going through a million shows on Netflix. But the feelings that I associate with that period of his life are so strong: constant self-doubt, feelings of failure and malaise, and all-around funk. I felt trapped at home, like I was losing myself, or many parts of myself, and felt like I wasn’t cut out for this and was a complete failure. I lost important parts of me and I was HARD on myself about it. I know the newborn phase is hard on everyone. Everyone will tell you that. But they can’t tell you which part of you will be hit the hardest. For me, it was my relationship with my husband.
I spent a lot of time down on my self, and down on my husband. My husband had never been around kids, especially not babies. I had no idea what to do with a newborn. It wasn’t really my mothering skills that I was worried about — I was producing all of the kid’s food, and attending to the majority of his needs. Jonas was happy and thriving. But I wasn’t thriving.
In the process of losing parts of myself, or perhaps just trying to figure out where the old parts fit together with the new parts, I lost key parts of who I was as a partner. The more I felt like a failure, the more I thought that my husband thought I was a failure (…which he didn’t). I took every word from him that could have been critical as critical and didn’t stop to think — maybe he really was just asking where his clean underpants were.
It took months of communication (and sometimes attempted communication) to figure out where we BOTH now fit in the life as parents to a little human. The old way things worked in our home wasn’t going to cut it anymore. We went from “dual income no kids” status to “single income one kid” status. We once both had “work life,” and an outside source of friendship, conversation, and somewhere else to build a little self-worth. Now, the only regular contact with adults I had was from my husband, so every little thing he did and said mattered that much more to me. His role in my life was and always will be a very large and important one, but it grew exponentially. I didn’t even see it happening at the time, but it is starting to make sense to me. I had gone from a (mostly) supportive and friendly work environment with regular adult conversation with many different people to being home with a tiny little newborn who couldn’t help me with my self-worth and my husband, who had never been my only source of well-being before.
It was a new role to him, and it was new to me for him to be in that role. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t rely on others for my sense of self or for my self-worth. I am a confident in who I am, and like the person I am. But for the first time in my relationship with my husband, I didn’t have OTHER relationships with OTHER people to help me develop and define myself. I didn’t have someone outside of our marriage to converse and laugh with regularly. I mean, I had friends, but if you’ve ever been home with a newborn, you know how isolating that can be. Days turn to weeks and weeks to months and then your newborn is walking and you have no idea how you got there in the first place.
The first thing that helped me was to ease up on myself. I reshaped my expectations into realistic ones, and stopped thinking negative things about myself. It was a process that took time, but things were better immediately. I could be a better partner when I was feeling ok about myself.
Second, I found time for myself. Instead of using my free time to clean or cook or whatever, I started to read non-parenting books again, and got my creative energy back slowly by picking up small crochet projects. I’m thinking there’s probably something to that “idle hands” saying.