The Struggle to Find Balance in Motherhood
Since my husband started his new career as an engineer late last year, our relationship has felt like we’re two ships passing in the night. He leaves before dawn and returns at 7pm. It’s hard to recall what he looks like in the light of day. There is method to his madness – leaving so early means he avoids traffic and gets in a daily workout. Leaving late means he can get more work done and miss peak hour traffic on the drive home. But his long work hours began to take a toll.
Building a Future Together
For four years, my husband worked towards this dream. He studied for his degree around family life with two little boys and a baby girl. We made sacrifices to make it work. Now he gets to live that dream, and so even though his days are incredibly long and challenging, he is able to push through the exhaustion because he loves what he does. Every day is a new adventure. He comes home bursting with stories about his day.
Initially, I was thrilled for him; proud and excited at how well he was doing in this strange new world. But within me, something was gradually eroding. My enthusiasm began to wane, bit by bit, until eventually when he would return home at night, I could no longer pretend to give a damn. About anything. My husband was enjoying the rewards of all our hard work and sacrifice but for me, life was more of the same.
I would get dinner on the table, get the boys’ school readers done, oversee baths or showers, and then I would lie down with my toddler daughter for bedtime. I would lie with her well after her breathing had slowed and I knew she was asleep. I lay there long enough to avoid dealing with the boys’ bedtime or the dishes or anything else. When I would finally emerge, I was half asleep, barely acknowledging my husband as I washed my face, brushed my teeth and crawled into our bed.
I would lie there for a while thinking of how tomorrow was a new day. How I would finally tick off all those things on my to-do list. How I wouldn’t yell at the kids and I’d get dinner prepped nice and early so I wouldn’t feel stressed later on. When my husband came home each night, he would see that I had everything under control. After dinner, we’d sit together on the couch and watch TV without me falling asleep.
It was such a simple dream but one that I could never make come true, no matter what I did.
What was wrong with me? I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Yes, the days were long without my husband around. Yes, I was tired. But this was motherhood. Nothing new or unexpected. When we finally sat down, I just talked and talked (and cried and cried) until I worked it out. And my husband listened – and really heard me.
Being a “homemaker” is the worst job I have ever had. If I was employed to be a housewife, I would have quit by now – or been fired. I know I am not very good at it. I am impatient, and resentful of the constant demands on my time. I shut down the kids’ playfulness and laughter in favour of getting ready and out the door on time. I have grand plans for lots of home cooking and creative school lunches, only to fall in a slump of zapped energy and zero motivation.
Each day, I cook and clean and none of it matters. There is no space for me to stop and admire my hard work because it must all be done again tomorrow. And the day after that. It is a relentless onward march. I make lunches. I arbitrate sibling arguments. I soothe toddler feelings. Why do toddlers have so many feelings?? Clothes get dirty again. The pleasure of a clean floor is momentary at best. The very act of living renders the pursuit of a clean home pointless.
I want to do better for my children but find myself coming up short time and time again. I adore them – and watching them grow is undeniably joyful and such a privilege. But I also resent how much of me is required to keep this family running – and how little I have left for myself. And this jarring contradiction leaves me shredded.
Sometimes I feel nothing I am doing really matters. I worry I am failing my kids and that they are good and happy in spite of me. I’d like to spend more time being their mum and less being their maid.
Happiness is elusive when I tie it to my domestic achievements. This is not where I derive joy. But living in a state of mess and chaos leaves me equally unhappy. When my husband gets home from work each night, I have nothing left to give.
So what is the answer? I can’t retire from motherhood and someone needs to run this family. We agreed a long time ago that I would be that person. But sometimes this huge job leaves me feeling completely empty.
What I need is more balance. So I asked my husband to get home earlier when he can. Getting home at 6:30pm might mean he sits in traffic for longer but those extra 30 minutes of having his support mean everything to me.
And somehow, amidst the busy family schedule and general exhaustion, I realised I needed to make time for my own pursuits. For me, this is writing. Together, my husband and I made a plan to carve out some kid-free space for me. And it’s been helping so much. We are a team, after all.
Mums are the heart of the family. If we are not travelling well, the whole thing begins to crumble. Balance seems like a clichéd word to throw around but it’s crucial to try and find it. It feels impossible sometimes, but I think we need to keep working at. Resigning myself to a life of domestic service was slowly destroying me. I always wanted to be a mum but 24/7 home duties were never my dream. It’s not a judgement call on other mums, just a realisation for me and what I need to be okay. And it’s not selfish to acknowledge that we need more than motherhood to feel fulfilled. On the contrary, it’s vital to honour all the parts of ourselves. After all, I cannot helm this ship if I am sinking.
Photo: Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels