This morning when I was at the grocery store with my family, a grandma stopped beside me because she wanted to “tell me something.” I knew what was coming: “Oh, I remember those days, cherish them, they go so fast!” I braced myself and readied my fake smile.
Do you know what she said? She told me she used to babysit her two young grandsons and how she dreaded it! She said it was so much work – all day! – and that she was so happy when her babysitting stint was over. That was the most refreshing thing anyone has said to me in quite some time!
Staying home with kids all day is So. Much. Work. Seriously, you have to be on your game 24/7. You don’t dare let down your guard – they can sense it. The minute I try to do something for myself – and I’m at the point here where “doing something for myself” means unloading the dishwasher – they can sense that my attention is elsewhere. They immediately use that moment to sit on top of each other or toss every book off the shelf or shake their sippy cups upside down into a puddle on the floor.
The hardest adjustment for me when I first became a parent was accepting the fact that there is never a break. I remember describing it to a friend as “relentless.” For the first few weekends after having my son, come Friday I would get that Friday Feeling: “ahhh, the weekend! I’m going to sleep in and catch up on things . . .” Wait. Nope. Tomorrow is Saturday, and it is going to be the same as every other day. I’m going to wake up insanely early and spend the day caring for this baby who has me doubting my instincts and feeling more inadequate than I have ever felt in my entire life!
Don’t get me wrong; it got better. It got easier . . . I think. Either that or I just got used to it. Like everyone says, as your kids grow, some things get easier, and some things get harder. I’ve adjusted to the fact that I have early risers. I don’t like it, but I expect it. I’ve adjusted to the fact that the weekend doesn’t offer much of a reprieve, except that my husband is at home, which means I am no longer outnumbered. We still spend our Saturdays managing the kids until quiet time – that blessed hour when my 4-year-old plays by himself in his room while my 19-month-old naps – AKA the fastest hour of the day.
I know that in a few months my 4-year-old will go to preschool. One day he will go to school all day. My younger son will grow out of the “runner” phase and understand the concept of an “ok to wake” clock. These times are temporary. They are phases. But I have to remind myself of that often. And I know that I will look back on these days of wrangling small children and be wistful. Honestly, I’m kind of wistful thinking about it now. But “quiet time” is almost over, so I’m bracing myself for the jolt back to reality.
I love my kids, and it’s easy to complain about the things that are hard, but I have found that the day goes more smoothly if I just give up the idea that I am going to “get something done” and spend time with them. The times I am the most frustrated are when I am battling with them to accomplish my agenda. Don’t misunderstand me; I believe in moms having hobbies and down time and friendships and all of that. It’s important, necessary, vital – our health depends on it! But when I adjust my expectations and realize that this time at home with them is, in the big picture, short; when I let go of my to-do list and read 25 books in a row or play Legos when I want to be starting dinner, we all have a more peaceful day. I have adjusted my expectations and now I know that the best time to change the laundry is when they’re having TV time and the best time to start making dinner is after my husband is home from work, and the time for me to begin some kind of complicated (or not so complicated) project is during nap time.
I guess what I’m saying (to you and myself) is don’t spend all day fighting the flow. Don’t spend all day trying to swim upstream. Accept this season of your life right now for what it is. See the beauty in it. Embrace the parts of that are lovely and enjoyable. Find ways to make the hard parts more bearable. Children slowly become more self-sufficient. Eventually, they get dressed by themselves, make their own PB&J, have more control over their emotions, and sooner than we think, spend more of the day away from the home than in it. The teaching and worrying and guiding never ends, but the intense neediness of the newborn and toddler phase does. Parenting is hard work, and sometimes I make it harder by starting the day with unrealistic expectations. Instead, I need to start the day with the goal of looking these little people in the eyes and really seeing them, stopping what I’m doing and really hearing what they are saying. Yes, sometimes the day is mind-numbingly boring. Sometimes it is completely maddening. And sometimes it is just amazingly beautiful, and my heart aches with love for those little hooligans. Every day is an opportunity for you and me to make those choices: look and see, listen and hear, and, most importantly, enjoy.