We’re all aware of the term ‘baby blues’ but in her third parenting feature, Sarah Wheatley considers Â what happens when this becomes the ‘one-and-a-half-year-old-mother blues’.
Most people think that if a mother is going to get depressed, it will be in the first week (the baby blues) or in the next few months (postnatal depression). However, there are certain points that seem to be real â€˜crunchâ€™ times for mothers, and one of these times is when your child is about one and a half.
This is the time when youâ€™re getting a bit more sleep, when youâ€™ve maybe got a bit more of an idea of a structure for your days and weeks, when your child is more mobile and more obviously able to interact with you and the world around.
And yetâ€¦ Just when you think you should start to be really enjoying being a parent and hitting your groove, you feel as though youâ€™re not sure why youâ€™re doing this. It feels relentless and life feels like an effort, rather than fun.
If this sounds like you, then please donâ€™t think youâ€™re on your own. This is a common experience for a lot of mothers. Youâ€™ve had a sense of â€˜getting throughâ€™ the sleeplessness and the challenges of becoming a parent. You just did whatever it took to look after your baby, yourself and your partner (if you have one). You were all in â€˜survival modeâ€™ and you just got on with it.
And now your child is bigger and things can be a bit easier, you find that when you come up for air it is hard to know how to â€˜doâ€™ life again. Especially if childcare is thin on the ground, it can be hard to figure out what you can enjoy now that your baby is more predictable. When space, time and energy to pursue hobbies and interests are at short supply, how do you stop days from feeling like a never-ending list of chores?
Often, this also clashes with a return to work. And for many women this also involves re-negotiating roles with partners. Whereas before your work was to look after the baby (and possibly the house), now you are still doing that AND going to work. It can be difficult for all of you to adjust to the change, as you both may have taken for granted how much you do around the house and in terms of childcare.
Having learnt to put our childâ€™s needs first, it can be a source of immense guilt for mothers to start learning to put themselves first too. Many women find the idea of paying someone else to clean their house, or asking a friend to look after their child for a couple of hours so that they can have a much needed nap/ haircut/ run/ coffee really difficult. We think that we should be able to do it all ourselves, and feel guilty or frustrated when we canâ€™t. Or we may feel resentful of our partners who might not be able to give us more help to do this, since they are also already stretched themselves. There is no â€˜giveâ€™ in your family system that allows you the space to get what you need.
This can be a difficult stage and there are no easy answers, but here are some ideas of things that will help:
Communicate clearly with those around you. If you are finding things hard with your partner and you both share how you feel with each other, this can help you both have better understanding the different stresses you are under. In turn, this can help you both feel less resentful and more supportive of one another, which paves the way for more creative ways of looking at the problems together.
For those of us without partners, clear communication with family and friends is also helpful. Rather than hoping that people will see we are struggling and will give us a break or sympathise, ask for support directly, Ask for food to be brought, or babysitting, or for a fun evening to be arranged for you.
This is a good time to look at what resources you can call in from elsewhere. Now your baby is bigger, it might be that paying a babysitter so that you can go to a yoga class once a week is a lifesaver. The money you spend on a cleaner might literally save your marriage. Spending money, especially if youâ€™re not earning anything at the time, can be very difficult. But try to see it in the bigger picture â€“ you are investing in the future of your family.
It also might be a time to re-evaluate what gives you nourishment. Look at what energises you and feeds your soul. If you used to love running but it just feels like a punishment right now, find some other activity that makes you feel good. If you realise that you just want some space to be able to cook without considering whether your baby can eat it or not, maybe set aside an evening a fortnight where you cook something YOU really want to cook. Our needs change, and doing what you always did might not be giving you what you need any more.
And during all of this, keep talking to people. It can be really helpful to realise that youâ€™re not the only one feeling like this. You may feel guilty for wanting more space for you and thatâ€™s really understandable, especially when family resources are stretched to their limits, but itâ€™s crucial to everyone that you can regain your sense of self as a person, not just as a mother.
Iâ€™d be really interested in hearing what you have to say about this, as itâ€™s not something that people commonly recognise. Is it a relief to hear that this is normal? Â Please do let me know!
A version of this article originally appeared on Sarah’s website www.birthandbeyond.org.ukÂ
You can also follow Sarah on Twitter @parentkind