Parenting is Exhausting
By Jen Holman
I’m so tired. Like, all the time. Tell me if you’ve heard this one: parenting is exhausting. I remember—well, in truth I remember bits and pieces—of that new parent stupor, that zombie-like state between sleep-deprived and overjoyed. Newborn tired is the kind of exhaustion when you finally find your missing phone…in the fridge. My three are past diapers and midnight feedings now, but we’re experiencing a whole new tired. A perpetual one with no end in sight.
Before I had children, I remember other parents saying they fell into bed at 8 or 9 p.m. At the time, I thought they were crazy—or even lame—but now I wonder how in the world they managed to get it all done and in bed that early.
My husband is a huge contributor to our family. He works long hours, feeds the kids breakfast each morning, and almost always gives the littles their bath. He pitches in on laundry and dishes. And we still can’t get it all done. We feel like we’re always dog paddling, barely keeping our heads above water before the next day, and a whole new deluge of parenting and household chores sucks us under. Most of my work these days is done from home, but I can’t find time to do the laundry. How do working moms get it all done? Do they set alarms in the middle of the night? Manage it all on the weekend? Just let the kids go to school in dirty jeans? No, really. I’m asking. How?
Adding to the physical exhaustion of parenting is emotional fatigue. If one of our kids isn’t stuffing the laundry full of perfectly second-day wearable clothes, then they’re whining, crying or fighting with one—or both—of the others. I got so sick of brokering arguments recently that I did a little research on the topic. Guess what? Experts say a little sibling rivalry is a good thing, that it helps them learn to resolve negative feelings and that life isn’t always fair. I’ve been trying to intercede less and instead say something like, “Sorry you’re frustrated. I’m sure you can work it out.” So far, this strategy isn’t working. They still argue like political opponents. But I’m holding out hope for the future.
Part of the issue in my house is that my husband and I have three children. A man-to-man defense is no longer possible. We’re outnumbered. We’ve moved to zone coverage, but it needs work. A few passes still get through. I realize much of this is my own fault. The kids probably have too many activities. But how many is too many? I read that if kids can’t remember their own schedules, then it’s too busy. I love this idea. I’m looking forward to polling mine and dropping everything they can’t remember.
For older kids, homework is stressful for both the kids and their parents. Math was never my thing anyway, but this stuff is tough and time-consuming! They’re learning great new strategies for an ever-changing world, though, and that’s great. They’ll be ready for college and an increasingly-techy workforce. College. Good lord, I can barely think of it without breaking into hives. It’ll be here much too soon. We’re telling our kids now that we’ll maybe go halfsies so they don’t expect too much. Well, okay, it’s a strategy for commitment and accountability, too. Our 10-year-old is already getting used to the disappointment. Since her school-issued seedling wilted the first week, she did not, in fact, grow the biggest pumpkin in America this year and ceded a $1,000 scholarship.
So, what are exhausted parents to do? How will we ever catch up on the sleep we’ve lost? One thing I wish I’d done—in hindsight, of course, because it’s so hard to see when you’re looking straight ahead—is take more people up on their offers to help. At the time, I felt I had something to prove, that I could and should do it all. Now, I roll my eyes at my own inflated ideas.
But even short breaks can give rest to weary minds and spirits. Pedicures have saved my life many times. Another option: going to bed with the kids and leaving the chores for tomorrow. I know for some people that’s so hard. They can’t think if their environment isn’t orderly.
What if even when you do go to bed on time, you find pudgy hands and feet in your face and lower back in the wee hours of the morning? What then? Not one of my three was a good sleeper. Obviously, we did it wrong. In my research—and near-insanity—I read something that struck a chord. If you start to resent something, make a change. We rearranged cribs and mattresses and sleeping partners until we found something that worked. And when it stopped working, we made changes again. A flexible parent is a sane parent, after all.
Parenting is hard. It’s uncertain and exhausting and stressful and maddening. I mean, I only learned what the wide necks of onesies were for after my kids were out of onesies. But parenting is also wonderful and gratifying and, sometimes, pure, unfiltered joy. Sure, we’re all perpetually exhausted and emotionally zapped, but we’re happy, too. Right? Right??