Sipping my coffee and impatiently tapping my fingers on top of the steering wheel waiting for the light to turn green, my mind races. I feel somewhat vindicated having both kids dressed and ready for school; however, I’m compulsively checking the time and calculating traffic patterns in my head in a race to beat the morning bell. As the light turns green my daughter passes a flyer from the backseat she retrieved from her backpack.
“Mom, here, picture day is Friday,” she says in a cheerful, optimistic tone.
Looking in the rearview mirror I see my two babies, who are far from babies these days. Grabbing the sheet of paper from her, I manage to mumble some words of gratitude, I’m adding picture day to the invisible list of to-dos. In my head, I’ve placed it below soccer practice, and my in-law’s birthday party. If I’m lucky, it will make it to the calendar on my phone at the next light.
This is my life. It’s not a horrible one, I’m blessed in many ways, which I remind myself of as often as possible. I’m lucky to have two healthy children. Somehow my marriage has endured nearly 17 years of holy matrimony. I’m at a point in my career where I finally feel I’m getting the recognition I feel I deserve.
But I’d be completely lying if I said I wasn’t drop-dead exhausted.
Possessing a Type A personality, I have trouble letting go sometimes—OK almost all the time. Trouble letting go of control. Control over my kids. Control over time. Control over silly things like the remote and which order we play miniature golf as a family (the right way is youngest to oldest . . . just saying), and serious things like finances and the thermostat. But what having a Type A personality really boils down to is your mind telling you that you have to be on.
So what does that mean?
It means that as much as my husband offers help, he won’t do it the way I would do it; therefore, I may as well do it myself. It means that taking time off from work isn’t an option because no matter who I put in charge of my “out of office email,” that person isn’t me; therefore, I must be online throughout family vacations to check-in. It means that as awesome as it is to have family and friends offer to help with my special needs daughter so I can relax, I won’t be able to because I’ll be wondering if she’s having a meltdown and if so, who will be there to calm her?
This might sound like a woe is me story, and perhaps it is, but the real purpose of writing this is not only for my mental health but because I know there are parents out there reading this right now nodding their heads and hopefully feel seen. I want you to know, I see you.
It’s so hard being the parent who is always on because if we’re being honest . . . if we could turn it off, we would.
In many ways, I envy my partner. While he has his moments of overthinking things and driving me crazy with his over-analysis of the simplest tasks, for the most part, he goes through life just taking things as they come. He’s been that way since the day we met. I know he’s the balance I need in life. He’s the calm in my storm.
But I would be lying if for one day, no make that one minute, we could switch places. I could dwell in his head living in the present. Not worrying about what comes next. I imagine what life would be like in his head. I imagine it’s like being in the ocean when one wave hits you at a time. You let the wave fully wash over you, soaking in every pore. When one knocks you down, you take the time to recover and find your footing just in time to catch the next.
I liken my headspace more to being in a class four river rapids, where you’re pedaling as fast as possible to keep up and even then you get taken under. There is no time to recover—you have to fight to get right-side up again.
Sounds exhausting, right? It is. There is no sugar coating it, no fancy bow to tie up this present. Being the parent who is always on is exhausting.
You’re on in the night wondering if everyone is sleeping OK, and if you got everything accomplished you set out to do, and what awaits you when the sun comes up tomorrow. You’re on at every doctor’s appointment taking in everything the doctor says, making sure you ask all the right questions. You’re on at work because that’s just what you do.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. What I’ve learned about being the parent who is always on is that in many ways I choose that thought pattern. I choose to think my way is the only way, which it’s not. I choose to think my children need me more than they do, especially as they get older (excuse me while I go eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and sob in my tub). I choose to let my anxiety get the best of me when I don’t take time for myself.
So on the good days, when I’m the best version of myself, I’m the parent who is on with my self-care. I’m the parent who is on taking in every minute with my child as we belly laugh while cuddled up on the couch. I’m the parent who is on her phone taking a video of my son making the goal for his team. I’m the parent who is on the sidelines cheering for my daughter as she progresses in her physical therapy.
I may not be the perfect parent I set out to be, but then again, who is? God didn’t intend for us to be perfect, quite the opposite actually, so why do I demand more from myself than the one who created me? So when the Pinterest party decorations don’t measure up and I’ve beaten myself up for forgetting to send that birthday card out on time, I’ve learned to rest. To just give it up to a higher power because that is who is ultimately in control. I’ve learned to move on, and I am working on not looking in the rear-view mirror too often because what is in front of me is so much better.
So, yes, being the parent who is always on is exhausting, but it can also be pretty amazing if you give yourself the time to appreciate it.