I’m re-reading my favourite parenting book: Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. This is the third time I’ve read it in under three years, and I love it because it’s funny, it’s relatable, and each time I read it, I’m struck by new things. So don’t be surprised if I bring up Druckerman’s ideas in more blog posts in future.
Today I was reading her chapter on “The Perfect Mother Doesn’t Exist,” where she talks about how American-style (and I’d say, Canadian-style, too) parenting involves an intense amount of “concerted cultivation” – in other words, parenthood is a project. Druckerman admits that as an American living in Paris, “my project is to make my kids bilingual, international, and lovers of fine cheese.” It struck me that perhaps one of the reasons I had great difficulty during my first maternity leave is that I too, thought of my time at home as a project.
I’m not surprised I viewed mat leave this way. Most of my life until that point had been a series of projects – from completing each class and each year of education until I was 22, and then continuing that ‘project’ mindset as I moved on through a series of contract jobs, buying my first house, and the nine months of my first pregnancy. All these experiences had definitive expiry dates, finish lines, and clear goals.
So of course I saw mat leave, with it’s defined months – six, in my case – as another project. I had an actual spreadsheet of goals, and I thought I was being very reasonable to only put one major item on the slate for each week. This didn’t work out so well for me. I did manage to check off most of my goals (probably because I had been so minimal with them in the first place), but I still felt like I hadn’t managed to accomplish much as my return to work neared.
Looking back now, I realize the problem wasn’t that I had tried to be organized, or that I had tried to ‘make the most’ of my brief time off work by having a clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish. The problem was that the point of that time wasn’t leave from work. The point of that time was my entrance into motherhood. I had been thinking about those six months as an isolated block of time, rather than as just the beginning of a lifelong experience with no expiry date, no finish line – the experience of being a parent.
Of course I felt I hadn’t “accomplished” anything – because my relationship with my child, my motherhood, my family, isn’t something to be “accomplished.” It’s something to be lived.
This isn’t to say I can’t have goals while I’m away from work this time around – I can, and I probably should, to keep connected to my independent adult self, who loves to-do lists and accomplishing things. But I won’t tie those goals to the finite period of my mat leave; instead, they’ll just be part of my life while I happen to be home every day, and they can and should go beyond my return-to-work date.
As I thought about this, I set aside my book, rubbed my big round belly, and promised baby #2 that this go round, our time together won’t be a project. We won’t try to accomplish things over the next year. We’ll just experience living with each other, getting to know each other, and cherish the fact that we have so much time to devote to the start of this new relationship that will last forever.