Someone asked me yesterday what it is like to be on maternity leave. I said: “It is a huge paradox.” It is the biggest privilege and the biggest prison in the world. On one hand, I know how fortunate I am to live in a country that offers perhaps the best maternity (and paternity!) leave in the world. In comparison, there are women in other countries who has to go back to work straight after giving birth, handing their children off to distant relatives or strangers to survive. I also live in a country where the tradition is to simply give the woman a bag of money and otherwise leave her to her own vices, totally isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. All over Scandinavia, you see mothers with newborns desperately walk around shopping centers to pass the time; shopping to at least feel some connection with the rest of the world. Or they sit at coffee shops doing their best to look totally perfect and blissfully happy with their designer clothes and designer kids, before going home to an empty apartment to stare into the wall or TV screen until their husbands and boyfriends comes come. And yes, this is totally a first world problem, but it is a problem none the less, because a mother with bird cage syndrome is not necessarily what’s best for a child. And yes, we can organize ourselves into little groups of mothers gathering with their children, and I’ve tried that, and many others have tried that and it is really not that much fun. Children can’t really play together until they’re at least two, so instead they’ll hit each other and roll on each other and steal each others toys. And I’ve gone to open playgroups, only resulting in my child shutting down because there was way too noisy. All in all, I’ve not found any of the traditional offers to pass the time as a new mother appealing.
So – here’s what I am doing instead, and let’s call this the beginning of “A MOTHER’S LIBERATION HANDBOOK”. (I’d like to clarify that when I say liberation, I do not mean liberation from my child, but from the unnatural situation I am placed in being isolated and home alone).
A MOTHER’S LIBERATION HANDBOOK
1. Whenever I find myself ‘bored’ during the day at home with my child, or I feel like being with a baby is ‘boring’, I deliberately ‘lower’ myself to her level. (low in this context means ‘humbling/grounding’) I do simple things with her that she enjoys.
These are our go-to things to do:
a) lay in bed and play and goof with each other, look into each others eyes, her moving and contorting her little body preparing to learn how to crawl, sit and eventually walk and stand. I stick my tongue out and do different movements and sounds with my mouth, because imitating these movements and sounds will help her develop the oral strength that is necessary for her to eventually speak.
b) Or we go outside and in the garden (can do it in your neighborhood if you live in an apartment) and slowly, slowly walk around and observe all the details we see. I make sure to observe where Lora’s eyes wonder to, and follow her lead in what interests her the most. Then we stop at trees and touch the bark, or I pick a basil leave and squish it between my fingers and let her smell and taste it.
c) We listen to music and dance. Nothing better to lighten a heavy mood. 🙂
2. I’m starting to plan more ahead to meet and see people that live rather far away, because I have found that it is important for me to be more with people whom I can communicate with on a deeper level and whom, at least to some degree share the principles I am committed to live, especially when it comes to how children are seen and treated. I’ve realized that if I want to meet and be around people who share similar values, I have to be willing to travel for it, and I am.
3. I have also realized that because maternity leave is a great privilege, I can actually use it (and the time it gifts me) to create even more networks and explore different places, situations and people. So I am actually planning on trying out different sports and hobbies, either where I can bring Lora with me, or eventually that my husband can be with her for a few hours when she’s not as dependent on my milk.
4. I plan on starting to study next spring when Lora is about a year old. I already have a bachelor and a master’s degree but it is invigorating to learn new things and I may want to expand my career into new areas, so what is better than taking up distance studying? (Which will also alleviate our economic situation a bit).
5. In the weekends or when my husband is home, we take roadtrips and find new places to take hikes where we take turn to carry Lora in a carrier or woven baby wrap. This is perhaps my favorite thing to do. As we walk, we talk about our lives and plans for the future.
6. I’m looking into starting a project or getting a job where I can include Lora, but this is very much only at a theoretical level. Another far in the future plan, would be to create a community setup living space, but by then Lora will also be much older. I can say as much that I will not accept that I cannot be mothering at a close and intimate level AND at the same time remain active in society and in my local community. It is simply unacceptable. So I will continue to work to find a solution.
7. I read blogs by other parents, and people in general who can inspire and support me to grow and expand as a mother. I watch videos and have discussions with people online, and I must say that having a supportive online community to share and communicate with is a must when you spend so much time alone – at least if you like I do, have a need to be social on a deeper level. Of course I also produce material myself (like this piece).
If you too are a new mother or a mother (or father) who’s staying at home who can relate to this, do share your tips or hacks of how you’re finding a way to remain active while at the same time committing to caring for your child in the best possible way; with your own two hands. I for one can see how incredibly easy it is to fall into the martyrdom of motherhood (another motherhood label/construct to liberate myself from) where one believes that one must sacrifice everything for one’s child. The opposite of course is the idea that one can have children and continue the exact same life as before, often at the expense of children who are often left in the care of rather random individuals. I am determined to find a balance you hear! And if you would like to join me, or join forces, don’t hesitate to contact me.