Utter exhaustion. That’s parenting. But not all parenting is equally hard. Some parents, frankly, have it much easier than others – for two reasons.
1) No kid is perfect, and they all will have their rough patches. But let’s be honest, some kids are generally just a lot higher maintenance than others. My kids’ emotional needs have been intense, to say the least. And constantly getting dragged down emotionally adds another whole component to “exhaustion” that the mere physical fatigue of keeping up with kids (as great as that is) can just not compare to. Parenting is tough when your kids’ needs demand more of you than you are equipped to give.
And 2) Some parents have a lot more support raising their kids than others. Even if I had lower maintenance kids, I can’t help but envy people whose parents come running to help any time it gets hard. Any time they have a dr’s appt, a big grocery run, or 2 places to be at one time, or even when they just need a break, their mom or relative can be there to help. Somebody, be it parent or relative or even friend, can race in to save the day and ease the burden. Not having this priveledge brings the whole 24/7 parenting thing to an entirely different level.
It also occurs to me it’s not the number of kids you have, it’s the number of needs. Somebody may have fewer kids than me, but that one child has medical or emotional difficulties that outnumber both my kids’ combined. And, it’s not just the number of needs your kids present, it’s the number of hands you have available to help you meet those needs. AND how often you can get away from those constant needs to recoup for a moment.
Add # 1 (high maintenance kid) to #2 (little support – ie mine are the only hands handling all those needs) and what do you get? A type of exhaustion that leaves you in a useless heap of tears, with no break in sight and no answers on how to make it better. All you cling to is that in the morning, things always look brighter. And a good night’s sleep (when you can get it) helps give you the strength to put on the armor you need for another day, praying that the pile of uselessness you are now will be magically transformed to strength and optimism the next day – hopefully optimism that won’t wear down to nothing by the evening.
Last night at a women’s group I attended, we discussed how kids can suck the life out of you, leaving nothing but “leftovers” for your spouse. Our book suggested that our husband deserves more than “leftovers”. While I agree, I have to admit that getting “leftovers” is one step above from what I usually get. I mean, what’s left for me after the leftovers are gone? Nothing. Nothing but more dishes to clean.
My husband is so amazingly supportive in this effort to take care of myself. But his help is limited to the 90 minutes a day he has between the time he gets home and the time the kids go to bed. And honestly, even if he got home and immediately encouraged me to retreat for a minute, I don’t know how to do it. When he gets home, things are in full swing. I am cooking dinner, and every 2-3 minutes, running up the stairs to help the kids in their showers, and back down to stir the stir fry. Enter husband. When exactly am I going to “clock out”? I don’t know how to just walk away from that sizzling pot on the stove and the kid screaming in the shower because soap got in his eyes. Was I dealing with both those things simultaneously by myself before he got home? Yes. But could he deal with it? I don’t know. Maybe. But I wouldn’t feel right abandoning him like that, as much as I might need to.
On days I worked, I not only got a lunch break, but I had my hour commute to sip my iced tea or coffee, listen to a grown-up station, and either mentally prepare myself for the day, or mentally unwind from one. On those days, when 5:30 rolled around, though I was tired, I’d had my hour of tea-sipping and good music, and was much more refreshed than I was on days when I’ve had them glued to my side all day, listening to fighting and my son screaming “I hate you” in the midst of yet another huge melt-down. When I was at work all day, I’d come home excited to see them. I’d miss them more. I’d appreciate the kids more. And I’d appreciate my husband more. Thus, I’d had more to give.
Now that I just sent my last kid off to kindergarten, I can’t help but think I failed. I never figured out while my kids were with me 24/7 how to both take care of them, the house, the husband, work, and me. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late. I don’t have to write myself off yet.
I’ve already said I don’t know how to do it. And I don’t. But I do know what has worked for accomplishing my priorities in the past, and that’s to put it on a list. If something’s not on the list, it probably won’t get done. So maybe one day I’ll add “polish nails and put lotion on legs” on the list. Maybe another day, I’ll add “take the time to BOTH shower AND fix hair: on the list. Maybe I’ll even get really crazy and take time to put make-up on too. And exercise? Wow! I can’t imagine how great I would feel if I got to scratch all that off my list one day.
Because I don’t want to just “survive” the day anymore, I want to live it. So among all the other important “to-do’s”, am I important enough to make the list? Absolutely.
There. I said it.
I’m doing it. Tomorrow.
If there’s time.