Socially, the first year of Arlo’s life was alright. Baby groups, weekly meet-ups with the members of my NCT group. Sure, the common denominator being that you have babies of similar ages does not necessarily mean that everyone you meet will end up being a friend for life, but it beats not having any plans or anyone to talk to throughout the whole of your maternity leave.
The second year was great. Although most of the friends I’d made in the first year had moved on – either back to full-time work, to different parts of the country, or even abroad, Arlo was much more independent from me and sleeping (slightly) better at night, so I regained my pre-child social life and started seeing my friends more. I was happy spending most days on my own with Arlo, as I balanced things out by going out in the evenings at least twice a week. It felt like I could really have my cake and eat it – have my old life back, as well as fully appreciating motherhood without the constant tiredness.
Then, somewhere between year 2 and year 3, things got really tight budget-wise. Sam and I both stopped going out, and I didn’t address the balance by upping the day time activities – partly through fear of spending any money at all, and partly because I was now busy being a work at home mum.
Although things are getting slightly better for us on the money-front and there is a bit more breathing room, I still find myself with an aversion to spending any money. As I wrote previously in my budgeting post, I see part of my role as the stay at home parent when we are strapped for cash as to not add to our expenditures in any way. So I won’t go to groups that cost money, do anything that involves buying extra petrol or bus/train fares, meet people for lunch, nor will I meet friends in cafes, pubs, or other places that require me to spend money. With so many social events for mums being geared towards spending money (come and get pampered, meet other mums, and part with your money…. come to our cafe, put your child in our soft-play area so you can chat to other mums…and part with more money), it can feel like my options for weekday entertainment are limited.
On the occasions that I do meet up with my non-parent friends, (which is now strictly birthdays, leaving dos and very special occasions), I find myself with nothing to say when they ask what I get up to during the week, and do I have lots of “mummy friends”.
It’s different, being a stay at home parent to a toddler. Because most people return to work, there aren’t as many groups for toddlers, and there aren’t as many parents around during the week. Plus, in the baby days, meeting up with other parents was all about my social life, my want of people to talk to. We chose the venue, usually a nice cafe or sometimes we’d even go to the cinema. Now my days revolve around what Arlo wants to do. I dedicate my time to toddler drop-ins and stay and plays, not cafes, pubs, and lengthy chats with my friends. What I want to do with my day doesn’t get a look in.
Working from home adds another angle to the isolation. Whilst I do get to meet and chat with lots of parents during my weekend photoshoots, most of my week is spent editing at home on my computer, not talking to other adults all day. Working at home with no childcare is a further complication, I can’t always afford the time to get out and about and explore new friendships on top of entertaining Arlo 24/7 and making sure I leave enough time to stay on top of editing, enquiries, correspondence, etc. In this situation, again, it’s what I want to do with my time that suffers.
I feel like I can’t win either way. On days when I’m really busy with work and battling feelings of guilt at fobbing Arlo off with more Cbeebies, we are both pretty desperate by the time company arrives in the form of Sam getting back from work. And on the days when I don’t have much work on, I find myself at a loose end, wishing we still had the frequent social activities we had going on when Arlo was a baby. Wishing I had more entertainment for Arlo, and that I was being a ‘proper’ mum, like my friends assume I’m doing all week.
Like many of the things I moan about, I know this situation is temporary. I love being a stay at home /work at home parent in summer. On sunny days it’s absolutely the best job in the world, I feel so grateful for my position and I never find myself feeling bored or in need of extra company. Plus, I’ll soon have two children to look after and I’m pretty sure, like in the early days with Arlo, I won’t have time to concern myself with feelings of isolation. But this winter has been so long and boring (I am seriously gutted that we are still getting snow and minus temperatures in late March). The lack of time, money, and opportunity has taken its toll, and in all honesty, has been a lot more isolating than I’d ever imagined it could be.