I am the mother of three young girls; seven, three, and almost two. We aren’t sure if we’re “done,” but things have been good enough to be OK with the idea of four . . . except for the lack of sleep. My husband and I went to a counseling session and talked with our therapist about the exhaustion. Everything is made worse by being tired—the insanely low supply of adult contact, the crazy decisions, the tight budget, the arguments about little things, weird relationships with family.
The first thing our counselor said was, “You know that this may be the hardest season of parenting, and possibly your marriage, right? I mean, statistically speaking, all other parents of small children feel a lot like you. The lack of sleep, the fatigue, the complex issues made more complex by having kids . . . it’s normal.”
We exhaled for probably the first time in seven years. We chuckled. Then we let go, and started laughing that kind of relief that just bubbles out of your lungs when you realize the thing that made you feel so heavy and tight, so burdened, was really just an “everyman experience.” My lungs actually softened. I felt so thankful! I began to entertain the idea that maybe I wasn’t all that much of a failure, and all these challenges would pass soon enough.
A year later, I sit here with cabin fever, looking out the window at the winter wonderland around me, and think I might finally be facing reality. My sweet girls are dancing circles around me, repurposing my favorite baskets and their sock bins into doll beds and tea party tables. Where have all the spoons gone? Just go look in their room. Why are all these socks on the floor? I may be sitting on my precious cutlery at this very moment.
My best friend in town is just now coming out of the littles phase, and I am horribly jealous. Her youngest is the age of my eldest. She takes them to jujitsu every week, and examines the atlas with them at the library. They know how to entertain themselves while she has tea and plays Scrabble with a friend. They build snow forts together and read books ALONE. She doesn’t have to schedule her day-to-day around nap time. Her glorious “finally coming out of it” is making me face my reality all the more.
Because I’m in it. Deep. They need me for so much right now. And even though it can be exhausting and insane and crazy and complex, I can like it. I can smile while I help them learn to wipe, and tie shoes, and figure out their interests. I can’t believe I’ve wasted so much good energy clinging to the intellectual adult I was before them, rather than just relishing the joy of giving it all—me—to them!
This is what I’ve realized we moms of littles need some straightforward permission to do or be or have:
Tired. You can be tired. You’re not a failure, because you’re in this state for all the right reasons. Helping with midnight bathroom trips, five million drinks of water, nursing sessions, changing sheets, staying up late to make lunches, plan breakfast, or take a bubble bath alone. Or burning the midnight oil to write something, read something, or feel like a woman again with your man. It’s all legit, all good. And it still equals tired. So be it.
Coffee. You can do the caffeine. Or drink some herbal tea if that’s more your thing. And while I recommend falling in love with something you can brew at home (French press, baby!) guilty is not what you should feel if you drive through the jiffy java without buying three kid-sized lukewarm hot chocolates to accompany your triple-shot. But sometimes you do. And that’s OK too. They’ll burn off the sugar later, anyway.
Full of restless thoughts to heal the world. Yep, you can have them. Of course, you’ll feel like a brain dead, unappreciated, over-used humanoid often enough, too. So take advantage of those moments of inspiration, and write them down. Pick a friend to be intellectual with. Read an article or a National Geographic every now and then (you might have to wait until the midnight bubble bath for that one). And laugh off the intensity of it all. It will pass. But don’t worry. You can pick it up again when you have a moment, and it will still have the potential to grow.
Nap. Do the nap. Don’t let that rude internal voice trick you into staying up, or you’ll drop anyway. Stop being vertical for just a few minutes and be the other way. Lay flat on your back on something soft (or hard, if your back is screaming for that). Stretch your limbs out wide, breathe deep, and pray they don’t all jump on you at once. Close your eyes even. The swirling thoughts may not go away, but at least that off-centered pain in your hip will subside a bit. I like to grab one of those rubber exercise bands and stretch my calves from my gloriously horizontal position. Try it. I can’t be the only one with horribly tight calves.
Life. You can live it. Live it with them. Teach them how to keep their hands to themselves as you (try to) peruse the antique gallery. Let them dig in the dirt while you figure out compost and how many seeds to plant in each row. Sweep the floor and fold the laundry with them as little shadows trailing behind you. Build the relationships of life, too. Approach your friends with the humility and insight that comes from raising littles. Write the thank you notes. Encourage and serve. And smile at your littles’ attempts to imitate. Praise them, because they’re learning life from you.
Play. Life should include fun and celebration in a variety of ways. Build that truth into their hearts while they’re young. How about stopping and saying “just for a minute,” instead of “in a minute” – cause we both know it might not happen if you put it that way. Read the story for the tenth time. Roll the ball. Initiate the tickle wars they’ve been begging for. Show them how to turn the food on their plate into a smiley face. Spin for the tallest ladder, and try to avoid all the chutes in that classic board game of old. Cut out some paper dolls and show them how imagination used to be done. Life constantly threatens to steal fun and play. Fight back: play hard.
I wish I could have been one of those women who embraced the role of sat-at-home-mom with ease. I wish I hadn’t lost those years to my internal identity crisis. I wish someone had knocked it home for me a bit sooner. Maybe I just wasn’t listening. But you can listen. You’re a mom of precious littles, and if you take these words to heart, maybe I can save you some time. Time I wish I could have back.