I have three young kids, and, reader, I am tired. My youngest child is a toddler, and my life right now is basically following him around, making sure he doesn’t hurt himself. There’s no downtime. When I go outside with them, there are no moments when I’m sitting in a lawn chair, passively watching their play. I’m chasing the toddler down the street. Or I’m hunched over, climbing to the third level of the backyard playset because the toddler hasn’t learned how to go down the ladder yet.
We live in a neighborhood with lots of kids, which is so fun. And if I’m being completely honest, very overwhelming for me. Living in this neighborhood has taught me something about myself that I used to feel really ashamed of. It felt like a secret I would never admit out loud to any other mom.
But recently, a confrontation with a neighbor has me feeling like I can’t be alone in this. There have to be other moms who think and feel this way too. This confrontation has me thinking that maybe I could even embrace this part of myself as just who I am.
My secret is: I don’t like being in charge of other people’s kids.
I am completely fine when all the parents are outside, watching over their own kids and dishing out discipline when needed. But when other parents are absent while their young kids run amok, I dread it so much. I hate breaking up fights about whose turn it is. When a neighbor kid says something mean or inappropriate, I hate having to intervene. I do this enough with my own kids. To me, it feels like a whole other level of hard and awkward to do this with other people’s kids.
Sometimes, this means I just want our kids to play in our backyard so I only have to parent them. Sometimes, I just send my older two kids outside to play in our backyard by themselves so I don’t have to chase the toddler around outside too. Sometimes, we invite over some of our neighbors when we know the parents will come too and watch over their kids. Because right now, I just don’t have the capacity to watch more than my own three. Sometimes (a lot of the time?!) I don’t even have the capacity for my own three!
I have some friends who are totally fine with having my older two come over to their house to play without me coming too. These friends also have two or three kids of their own.
I don’t know how they do it.
They never seem to mind, and they never seemed stressed about it. I always feel guilty that I’m not returning the favor. I would never tell them it’s because that sounds like my worst nightmare. It makes me feel mean and un-mom-like—not at all like the fun and breezy mom I had pictured I would be.
So I’ve been silent about this part of me, avoiding situations that might feel particularly overwhelming, all the while hoping that no one saw how I was barely holding it together as it is. But then the neighbor confrontation happened.
One of our neighbors asked my husband if they had done something to upset us. He said he noticed a pattern that we were avoiding them. When my husband told me about this, I felt terrible and super awkward (who wants there to be neighbor drama?). But I also knew where this was coming from, and felt at a loss for how to explain it without having to share my secret.
These neighbors are very nice people, and they have great kids. But the parents usually don’t come out when their kids are outside playing with the big group of neighbor kids. This leaves me (and the other parents who are out) to be in charge, and I hate it. I don’t want to do it. I would just rather not.
My husband shared with the neighbor that when I’m outside with all three kids by myself, my hands are very full and our time is usually determined by what’s going on with the toddler. Is he melting down? Then we just need to come in. Does he want to do what all the bigger kids are doing and it’s too exhausting for me to keep up? Then we just have to come in. That’s all true.
But the whole truth is to take it a step further and say I’m just too overwhelmed to parent their kids too.
For a while, when I saw those neighbors, the tension ate at me. And after a period of time of beating myself up or trying to tell myself to just grow up and deal with it, I’ve finally come to determine it’s okay that I’m at capacity with just my kids. I’m not mean just because I don’t want to watch over their kids too. I’m just overwhelmed and don’t want to do it. It’s fine to admit it. It’s fine that I can’t do it all. It’s okay that there are some things concerning kids (especially other people’s kids), that I don’t like doing.
So, I’m working to not feel guilty about this. I’m working to accept that not everyone will understand or relate to this part of my personality, and that’s okay too. This doesn’t have to be a shameful secret. It also doesn’t have to be the defining aspect of my personality. It can be a part of who I am, in this season that maybe others can relate to as well.