Here’s the situation: You stay at home with your little baby and even though you’re home all day, your husband still comes home at 7pm and wonders why HE has to wash the dishes. And go through the mail. And start the laundry. At first you’re mad and yell at him—“I didn’t have time! I couldn’t put the baby down!” But then after you’ve done that, the thought does cross your mind: why IS the kitchen a mess? What HAVE I been doing all day? Then you start feeling guilty.
To be sure, stay at home mothers all over the world are covered in spit up, still in their pjs, and generally hanging on by a thread when their husbands walk in the door at night. This is totally normal, especially if your baby is not napping yet, or the baby is napping but you have other small children at home too. Husbands typically don’t understand how staying at home with little children generally means moving from one crisis to another, and even though one of those crises might take place in your own room, you still don’t have time to pick up and use the hairbrush just inches away.
But sometimes there is something wrong. Sometimes his rebuke uncovers a paralysis problem that is not just normal stay-at-home mom stuff. It hits a nerve because you’re depressed and want a way out, but you don’t know how to get it.
The boundary between “normal” stay at home mom, and “paralyzed” stay at home mom, is gray for the kinds of reasons I’ve stated above. Sometimes it’s not a matter of outward behavior, but of inward feelings. A normal stay at home mom might still be in her pjs with nothing accomplished at the end of the day, but there is a qualitative difference between her and the paralyzed stay at home mom. Mainly because the normal stay at home mom is at peace. She knows the messiness is not the ideal but she just couldn’t get to it today and tomorrow she has a better plan to get the baby to sleep while she mops. She might not accomplish it even tomorrow, but if she doesn’t, she’s at least going to get to the mail while she’s spooning Baby her strained peaches. There is an inward mobilization that fuels the normal stay-at-home mom. She’s not defeated and resigned.
The paralyzed stay at home mom is truly depressed. She knows the dishes aren’t done but doesn’t see any way that they’ll get done for the next 18 yrs. She is overwhelmed with being a mom, and it isn’t so much the “time” she doesn’t have to clean the house or take a shower—it’s the mental space. She doesn’t think like herself, she doesn’t feel like herself. She’s paralyzed because she’s resigned. She may in fact have time on her hands that another mom doesn’t—this might be the first baby and one day the baby takes a long nap. But she doesn’t feel any better. She doesn’t use that time to grab that cup of instant coffee she’s been dreaming of and, relieved, step into a ten minute shower. She sits right through the nap, thinking of nothing or just her lot in life, and sinks into the confirmed role of doom once Baby wakes up again.
If this is you, you are not alone. But you are depressed. It might not be post-partum depression… your baby could be two years old! But you are depressed all the same and it is important for you to take action. The unwashed dishes are just a sign, and the answer is not to despise your husband for bringing it up. The answer is to get some paper plates for awhile and talk to your husband about the deeper problem. Once he understands that your problem is depression, and not your lazy butt, he’s liable to cut you some slack. that doesn’t mean he’s going to back off! He will definitely want to fix your problem and this will probably make you mad. But it is his nature to fix, and he’ll suggest ridiculous things that you’d better have some alternatives to, until you start taking some initiative. It pays to allow this.
Once you get your motivation back in life, then eventually the dishes will get done again. Let him help you rediscover your motor, what makes you tick. Let him help you take care of yourself, and work with it. Or if he’s not helpful, confide in a friend who can kick your butt for awhile—make you go to the gym with her, take a cooking class, whatever. Get a counselor if necessary or join a small group. Or consider doing a stay-at-home degree that will give you some work and vision. Whatever it takes, do it. Add to your life, don’t subtract. Because no-one can promise that you’ll get the dishes done every day, but at least you’ll feel like you’re controlling your life again instead of your life controlling you.
That’s the goal.