My boys are 13 and 10. I recently was chatting with a family member who is still in the baby and toddler stage when it became abundantly clear I had completely spaced out and missed most of the conversation.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’m exhausted right now.”
The look on her face was pretty disgusted, and, before she realized how short she was being, she said, “How can YOU talk to ME about being exhausted? Your kids sleep through the night!”
I felt terrible and contemplated apologizing a few times. But then realized I shouldn’t feel bad about expressing my current state of being to someone I love.
While we tell new parents “it will get better” all the time — and to a degree it does — we fail to mention that the exhaustion doesn’t actually go away.
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I remember being in that stage of young parenting when the babies were finally sleeping through the night but didn’t have activities yet. I was getting a solid eight hours of sleep and made my way back to 5:00 a.m. hot yoga classes. I was at peak working-mom balance. I was thrilled beyond measure when birthday invitations came home from preschool and when I was asked to help with the class parties.
That season is much like Fool’s Spring, when February and March offer beautiful weather and blooming flowers, and then hit us hard with a hard freeze. I refer to this time in parenting as Fool’s Energy! We think we’ve made it over the hump and won’t be so tired anymore.
I Can Still Do This
Around the time my oldest began elementary school, he started different activities. I joined the PTA, and saw an uptick in playdate invitations. I finally made other mom friends and made it a point to join them for coffee or happy hours. The calendar was steadily filling up but thought “I can still do this!” For the most part, it was totally manageable.
After a couple of years in this stage, little bro hit the same age group. He picked his own activities, adding to the calendar. I began to stress out about learning disabilities, kids’ social environments, mom drama, and more! My sleep went from eight hours to six or seven hours. Suddenly I was pretty darn tired even with decent sleep . . . but “I can still do this!”
OMG What Happened?
Now that my boys are older, I find myself asking “OMG, what happened?” on a daily basis. There’s the overly packed calendar, homework I struggle to help with, the two sets of feet that are now bigger than mine, the amount of food (and subsequent grocery bill) that they eat. There’s also the fact that my first sweet baby is now shaving and his voice cracks.
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The amount of time that I used to spend volunteering in the classroom has been replaced by “Mom’s Taxi Service.” My friends are those who give me the grace to drop off the face of the earth for weeks at a time because I’m at the hockey rink or football field almost every night. Practices and games are later because the kids are older.
I find myself stressing about everything from sports injuries and helping my youngest transition from little kid to big kid to hoping my oldest picks the right classes to set him up for college.
I worry about how to talk to them about the hard stuff, how to make sure they know we are their safe place. How to still be a fun, cool mom, even when I want to rip my hair out. Add work and family issues — plus the fact that I don’t get to sit down and watch my shows until 10:00 p.m. — and sleep has ticked back down to five hours on a good night.
The Exhaustion Doesn’t Go Away
Thinking about the conversation with our family member, I wish I had explained that I have every right to be exhausted too because my plate is very full. I’m not walking around in the sleepless baby fog, but those dark circles are still under my eyes. The exhaustion never left; it simply hibernated for a little bit and then changed. I wish I had said that they too have a right to be exhausted and will 13 years from now and beyond.
We don’t tell new parents that the exhaustion doesn’t go away, but we should. In all those tired moments, are so much joy! I would share that just when I thought I couldn’t take another minute of being so tired, I realized that my 13 year old has only four school years left with me before he leaves the nest. As gutting as that is, it’s also exactly what I need to find the energy to power through another day and to enjoy the time I spend as the mom taxi, personal chef, tutor, coach, counselor, and all the other things my kids need me to be on very minimal sleep.