The Only Thing That’s Important About What You Do All Day…

As a child I can’t remember anyone talking about expats, but after leaving school I had a friend whose brother who had lived in Hong Kong. When he returned home to Australia we drove over to visit him. On the way there I was filled in on the family details. The brother was a bit of a superstar, a fancy job in a glamourous industry, a really nice guy who’d married his high school sweetheart. And the wife? Well, expat life had kind of spoilt her. She’d become a bit of a “princess”. They’d had a maid in Hong Kong and the wife hadn’t worked. There was a fair amount of eye rolling involved in her description.

When we arrived I met “The Princess” and discovered she had two very small children. She also had a very tragic story to tell. It was incredibly sad and had happened during their time away. Photos were propped up on the mantle piece to recognize and remember a child who never came home from the hospital. I think back to that day now and hope I didn’t say something incredibly insensitive, I was young and single and until I had children I really had no idea of how a child could break a parents heart. I think I thought that babies were kind of like cars or houses, yes you loved them and found them special, but surely you’d just grieve, move on and then get another one? I was a late bloomer when it came to emotional development.

It wasn’t until I held my own child that I learnt there is no baby like your baby. Whether you personally gave birth or waited to hear the news that there was a baby for you – the minute you held it, saw it or even perceived it, your brain made a gear change, an audible clunk. Different speed, a different road.

In retrospect, when I think back to those first six months after my first child was born, I can recognize some of those tell tale signs that are often linked with postpartum depression. I wasn’t so much worried that I would intentionally hurt my baby, I was worried that I’d mess up somehow and break her. I had regular nightmares about terrible things happening to her. I’d daydream that I’d accidentally dropped her while walking down the stairs, and then quietly dread that it must have been some sort of vision or warning. I’d stand in the kitchen and imagine how easy it would be to burn her. I check on her in the middle of the night to make sure she was breathing. I know I’m not the only one who did this, I’ve sat with women all over the world who’ve had the same discussion. A few of us nervously laughing it off while feeling instant relieved that we weren’t alone. None of us quite believing that we were capable of taking our minds there. None of us understanding why it was happening. 

Eventually the regularity of those dreams and thoughts stopped, but even now, thirteen years later, I’ll occasionally wake up in terror, and for a split second be sure that the dream was real. A child drowned, a child thrown out of a car, or trapped in a fire. I’ve put it down to motherhood, that something changed in me the day I held my first child, that it’s some sort of animal instinct, or maybe just an internal unconscious fear. 

I read a post this morning written by a father who talked of discussions that were had about his wife choosing to stay home with the children. He was fierce in his defence of their decision and puzzled by the comments of those in his day to day interactions. The usual comments, we’ve all heard them before:

“…I can’t imagine being a stay at home mom. I would get so antsy. [Giggles] What does she DO all day?”

His article was heartfelt and as I made my way through it I was imagining the comments he was going to receive from his post. Over the past few years there’s been enough written about Stay at Home versus Work at Home versus Go to Work, that you know exactly where the discussion is going to end. Same shit, different shovel. The comments will break into three groups:

Those who stay at home and feel the need to defend it.

Those who go to work and feel the need to defend it.

And those who are batshit crazy and are just angry about everything. 

I know what people with babies and toddlers do all day. I’ve done it. And I know what people who work all day do because I did that too. And I also know what people who talk about other people’s decisions do, because unfortunately I’ve done that as well. It’s ugly and its judging. And nothing good can come of it. 

But this is what I have learnt when we talk about these perceived “Princesses”. There’s always a story behind the fairytale and it’s usually sad. We all need goals to achieve to be happy, that’s how life works. It’s all about endorphins and rewards, feeling sadness over not being where we want to be and then great happiness when we get there. That’s how our brains work. I’m not talking huge achievements, for some it’s just getting something completed, for others it’s gradually learning a craft. If you don’t achieve anything you don’t get the dopamine that comes with the achievement. Life is flat, pointless. 

Some of us can work 70 hours a week, run marathons and raise beautiful children – many of us can’t, some of us don’t want to. But more importantly, none of us know how we’re going to react until we’re there. Until you’re holding your child, you don’t know how you’re going to feel.

We all have our own goals, our own achievements – and when we don’t that’s usually when we start feeling miserable. It has nothing to do with the economics of staying at home or going to work. As long as we have something that we’re working on for ourselves, that’s all that matters. The only thing that’s important about what you do all day, is the question of if it is providing the endorphins to keep you happy.

Stick together ladies, while we keep having these ridiculous discussions and judging each others choices, we’re wasting time we could have spent on ourselves. 

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