Maternity leave: a time to recover from birth, connect with your new baby, and learn complex skills of feeding, sleep schedules, and general baby care. If you're lucky enough to get one at all, it won't be long before you hear other people complaining about the "baby vacation" you're getting, as if what you're doing is any kind of "vacation" at all. It's not just old colleagues and childless friends who might not understand the purpose and importance of time away from work after having a baby. In fact, sometimes your biggest clueless critic can be really close to home. There are just some things your partner will do when you're on maternity leave that will drive you up the wall — and believe me, I know!
Maternity leave is absolutely essential to a mother and baby's health and wellbeing and unfortunately, it remains a rare benefit in America, with only 12 weeks of unpaid leave mandated, compared with our nearest neighbor Canada, where mothers can take up to 52 weeks of leave with financial compensation representing a percentage of their previous salary, and they can share this leave with their co-parent.
Although a necessary and amazing part of the postpartum period, maternity leave isn't without issues. Some mothers feel bored, undervalued or overwhelmed, and many don't have adequate support.
If you do stay home for a period of time to care for a new baby and your partner returns to work, they are unlikely to really understand what your days are like and will most likely say or do some truly infuriating things like:
Ask You What You've Been Doing All Day
"Tread carefully, buddy." This is the question that precedes maternal meltdowns. It comes hand delivered with a truckful of assumptions and has this mama wondering, "Do you really want me to list exactly every little thing I have achieved today?"
Let me tell you, it required Herculean strength, determination, and resolve just to get to the first nap time. So suck it!
Ask You What's For Dinner
If you have any intention of preparing a meal and also caring for a baby all day, then you get all the mothering prizes — seriously, all of them.
When I was pregnant, I cooked for a solid month and put all my culinary creations in the freezer. If I hadn't done that, we would've all starved because come 6 p.m., I was done.
Tell You All About *Their* Hard Day
Sitting in an office or quite frankly wrestling gibbons while juggling firecrackers is nothing compared to what a new mom did in the course of a day. It's not that we don't care about your day, it's just that listening to your mini dramas really takes the last bit of energy we have and pales in insignificance to keeping a tiny dependent human alive all day long.
Trying to illicit sympathy and empathy from someone operating on no sleep, a whole heap of conflicting emotions, and struggling with possible feeding problems and the responsibility of caring for an infant full time is a no-win situation.
Complain About The Laundry
My husband would routinely complain that he didn't have any clean socks, so I would remind him that he was capable of operating the washing machine all by himself. Once, he actually said, "But you're here all day."
The look I gave him rivaled one of Medusa's stank-eye stares and he quickly learned that maternity leave does not equal full-time housekeeper.
Make Plans Without Asking
Your partner comes home and says: "I invited some friends over for dinner tonight"
A red mist descends...
You say: "Prepare to die."
Tells You They're Tired
New babies interrupt everyone's sleep patterns in the house, and your partner probably isn't getting a full eight hours of sleep before they have to go to work all day. It's tough, we get it. But the person they need to complain about this to is not a new mother on maternity leave. They should find a friend or relative to vent to and let you hold the record of the "world's most tired person."
Presuming You're The Default Parent
Unless you're in a very modern partnership, chances are that one parent will take on more duties related to the children than the other, and that's OK. There always seems to be a "default parent," the one who books appointments and buys clothes, fills out paperwork, and organizes official records. If you are home on maternity leave your partner may presume that these duties fall to you, but it can be very stressful to have the full responsibility of childcare and have your partner acting like your assistant.
Try to delegate specific tasks to the other parent, such as story time or dinner preparation. My husband took over bath time once our son wasn't quite so delicate and fragile looking and those 20 minutes of solitude for me were a lifesaver.
Act Jealous That You Get To Stay Home With The Baby
At first you might actually think it's sweet when your partner says they wish they could stay home with the baby too, but after a while it can sound like a judgment on how you spend your time and that you're not really "working."
Suggest You Take A Shower
OK, maybe you do need a shower, but it's a bad, bad idea for any partner to actually say this to a new mom. The same goes for suggesting a new hairstyle, a change out of sweatpants, or an eyebrow wax!
Expect You To Run Errands
If your partner leaves you a little list of chores, like dropping off the dry cleaning, paying bills, mailing letters, getting the groceries, etc., you may want to remind him or her that caring for a new baby all day is really hard work. And a baby isn't an accessory you can just strap on while you go about your new "no-work" life.
It might seem a little strange at first, but setting up a roster of chores and childcare duties can make everyone feel that there is a fair division of labor and rest.
Ask About Sex
Some women count down the days until they can get busy again after baby, and others do not. Your body has been through a huge ordeal and you're recovering and transitioning to a new stage of your life. You need to give yourself time to repair and readjust. Any partner who puts pressure on a new mom to bring sexy back before she is completely ready is. a. total. jerk.
There's no doubt that having a baby is a big adjustment for both parents, and your expectations about what it means to be a parent and what it means to be in a relationship will probably need to change.
For all the challenges and infuriating comments endured during my maternity leave, my marriage has been strengthened since having a child. We are a team in a way we never were before, both committed to raising our crazy little one with love and humor.