“Are you looking forward to your break?”
I almost wondered if the question had come through my video call distorted, but when I stared at the face on my screen that was patiently waiting for a response, I had to hold back a snort laugh.
“My break?” I asked, trying to keep the mixture of disbelief and sarcasm out of my voice. This was a work call. I needed to remain professional with this man who was technically a superior to me, if not from the same department.
“Yeah. Your maternity leave.” He was completely serious.
“You know it’s not actually a break, right?” I asked him.
“I mean, sure, you have the baby, but you get time off.”
This time a laugh did escape my mouth. He couldn’t be serious, could he? He had two kids of his own. Didn’t he realise that maternity leave was work? But serious he was, and even before I started my maternity leave with my twins, I knew I would be right about this one.
My maternity leave with my first child (who is now a toddler) lasted six months. It was supposed to last eight, but with everyone working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I figured I may as well skip the months of unpaid leave ahead of me and join them again from the comfort of my own home.
The six months of leave that I had with my baby were mostly spent in lockdown. I was confined to the walls of my home and those of my doctor’s appointments. I spent hours feeding, patting, shushing and walking my baby around the house to get her to sleep. I cooked and cleaned while running on two-hour sleep increments around the clock. It was not a break.
Fast forward to today and I’m on month three of my maternity leave with the twins and my toddler – and my planner is jam-packed every single day. Between the housework that comes with a husband and three children, appointments and making sure everyone has everything they need, I now also have a social life that I never had to make time for during my first maternity leave.
Every day, from start to finish, I’m trying to tick something off my to-do list. The only break I get is watching Netflix while the twins cluster feed for two hours every night.
And, of course, I’m choosing to do this. I’m choosing to make sure I keep up my weekly cleaning routine and that I’m cooking dinner so that we’re not eating out too much. I’m choosing to meet friends for coffee and search around for the best price for whatever I’m trying to buy. It all takes time.
I’m not a working mum at the moment, but I’m doing a whole lot of mum work. Being a stay-at-home mum is not a break and I have to hand it to my husband for making me feel valued and appreciated even though I’m not doing ‘my real job’.
Some days do feel like a break. Some days the housework is under control, there’s no untidiness that’s making me anxious and I feel like I don’t need to rush everything. And then, other days feel like I’ve been placed in some kind of motherhood war simulation with three crying children, lego under my feet and dinner being burned.
Everyone’s experience is different, but raising children is not a break. It’s hard work. You’re constantly tracking nap times and food intake and milestones and more. You may not be leaving the house to go into work every day, but the mental load that stay at home parents take on is a job in itself.