What do mothers do all day? Sit around drinking coffee, obviously

coffee and cake

From the outside, it may look like mothers are having a jolly: drinking coffee and chatting while the babes roll around on the floor. From the inside, it’s a different story. In case you were wondering, here’s what mothers do all day…

After the birth of my firstborn, I found days would stretch from 7am (when she woke) to 7pm (when she went to bed), and I wouldn’t have achieved all that much. Yes, dinner would be cooked. And the house wouldn’t be a complete tip. But where had the rest of the day gone?

A friend recommended What Mothers Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing by Naomi Stadlen. I’ve never been keen on parenting books of the ‘how to’ variety, but this appealed: a psychotherapist relaying tales and anecdotes of real life mothers, alongside her analyses, in a bid to explain what motherhood entails.

While reading, I found myself nodding along. This is how I was feeling – so busy, and yet nothing to show for it. Like a changed woman, and yet not sure who I now was. So much closer to my own mother, but temporarily distanced from certain other women in my life. So busy and yet as if I was doing nothing with my time.

I grew fond of Naomi Stadlen and decided to attend one of her talking groups in north London. It was an invaluable experience for me; spending a couple of hours each Monday in a closed kids’ shop on Stoke Newington Church Street, sitting in a circle with other mothers.

There will be smiles and laughter (most days). But there will probably be more tears

We would share what we were feeling and going through. One woman cried because she was so utterly sleep deprived. Another shared issues she was having in her relationship. One woman had a brand new baby, and she just wanted to tell us how utterly in love she was with her new son.

Stadlen’s book, and therapy group, made me realise that what mothers do when it looks like nothing is ensure that their baby is cared for, loved and nurtured. They protect their young like a lioness keeps her cubs safe and protected.

In our society, we put so much pressure on women: to be mothers, to have a full career, to look amazing, to be sexy. To be all-round perfect. We don’t allow women to focus on just one thing at a time: career. Or being a wife. Or being a mum. She has to do all these things, and excel.

So when a woman who is at home raising her children says she is ‘just’ a mum, it’s because she’s been taught that this isn’t enough. That she should also be running a business on the side (being a ‘mumpreneur’). Or working part time to bring in her own money. Or at the very least, taking Instagrammable photos and creating snappy captions.

And then there’s the comments from partners and outsiders about how mothers spend their days. My own partner wouldn’t dare suggest that I have an easy ride, as the primary caregiver to our children. He takes days off to look after the kids when I need to work away from home so knows how tough it can be.

But I know other women whose partners have said it looks like they’re having a jolly. Drinking coffees, visiting art galleries and eating lunch out with friends. Of course, any hands-on parent knows that the coffee will be cold – or left half-finished. The art gallery trip cut short because of a ‘poonami’. And the lunch out a screaming disaster.

Life as a mother is anything but easy. Yes, there will be smiles and laughter (most days). But there will probably be more tears, tantrums, food-flinging, buggy-avoiding, Play-Do stuck in the carpet, exploding nappies, missed naps and disaster trips to the shops.

And let’s not forget the hidden nighttime duties. When (often) the mother will be up with the baby. Rocking, shushing, singing lullabies, breastfeeding or giving a bottle. It’s absolutely exhausting, and great when the partner can help but often he’ll be encouraged to sleep so that he can work the next day.

Of course, the mother is also working. She is working to make sure the baby has everything she needs: naps, food, soothing, walks, air, playtime, company, warmth, fresh nappies. And probably keeping the house in some kind of order. All while suffering with extreme sleep deprivation.

I recently had a heated debate with a man who felt his job outside of the home was far harder than his wife’s. She’s a full time mum. I asked if he had ever fathered full time. He said no. But that he was very hands-on. I tried to explain that it’s just not the same as having that responsibility day (and night) in, day (and night) out.

He didn’t get it.

It feels almost impossible to explain exactly what it is that you’re doing all day as a mother, because so much of it is in your head. Planning. Strategy. Negotiations. Emotional outbursts. Loss of identity. Re-finding identity. Loneliness. Anxiety. Clearing. Clothing. Changing. Loving.

That’s what do mothers do all day. They give themselves almost entirely to their children. But with no paycheque at the end of the month.