I love our kids. I mean I really, really love them – more than I’ve ever loved anything in my entire life. Like shooting stars and universe explosions and never ending sea depths type of love. Crying during diaper commercials and hawk hovering at the playground and looping kidz bop songs in the car and matching outfits type of love. But man, are they hard. And I’m sure it’s not just my kids; I’m sure yours are too. And I’m assuming like me, if you have kids, you are fighting through every day.
As much my heart beams with pride when I watch them accomplish the smallest tasks, there is a drudgery that exists with making sure they are clean, fed, and cared for when they seem to want anything but. The first time you encounter that tiny face with their eyes clamped tight, fists clenched, mouth closed like a steel trap, opening only to scream “NOOOOO!”, you smile a little. Their first assertions of independence, the evidence that yes, they are little people is sweet and exhilarating in the beginning. But it is never-ending. It becomes a Groundhog Day of struggles, except no tricks or improvements you try make a difference, and you never learn to carve an ice sculpture. And once one struggle passes, there’s the hundreds of other tiny menial tasks they can, and will resist against.
Every time I have to convince my four-year-old that yes, he does need to go potty while he jumps around holding his nether regions screaming “NO! I dooooon’t have to goooo!”; every time I spend twenty minutes wrangling a toddler like an alligator to get socks on, only to have her pull them off seconds later; every time I have to referee a fight over one yellow Lego in a pile of a hundred other yellow Legos, every time I clean poop off anything, something inside me dies. And a flash of my old life before kids sometimes makes it way into my brain. When did this happen, where did you go?
The you that wanted things and did things and thought about things other than school lunches and clean underwear and sleep schedules. The you that bought lipstick and went to concerts and told jokes that didn’t end in “chicken butt”. There are days I wake up, always to the sound of a crying baby or a disgruntled preschooler, where I long to be woken up by the sun, or even the artificial tinkle of an alarm clock, at a time that was mutually agreed upon by my mind and body, after sunrise.
I can’t control my daughters insane internal clock, or my son’s aversion to sustenance, but I can control a lot of the self inflicted stress that comes with being a mom. So for New Year’s this year, my resolutions are going to just be for me.
Less Social Media. If anyone ever needed proof on the negative effects of social media, this past election probably confirmed it. The comments section of any post is enough to make you want to turn in your human card. Yes, it’s a great place for catching up with friends, kid pictures, and to get your daily dose of light news and memes, but it has the potential to be a mind-numbing black hole of laziness and negativity if you let it. As a SAHM, seeing the daily goings-on of working moms, friends traveling the world, or other families who seem to have the perfect kids/house/life can be a soul crusher when you haven’t showered for three days. So, my social media diet will consist of brief scrolls in the mornings and evenings. And though this list is technically not about kids, device-free attention for my kids will be a happy by-product.
No more Pinterest. Admittedly, I have probably tried executing 1-2% of what I pin. But comparison is the thief of joy, so I’d like to be able to look at a mason jar again without imagining how I can transform it into a hot-chocolate filled reindeer. I’ll still peruse its pages for recipes and a kid activity here and there, but anything that requires a trip to a craft store or an ingredient sourced from a local farm can remain what I know it will always be for me: a nice picture to look at.
Eat and Cook What I Like. I’ve made enough animal shaped pancakes and vegetable hiding quiches to learn one thing: kids will refuse anything. And the more effort you put into that tiny macaroni cup getting thrown on the floor, the angrier you’ll be. So I’m going to stop planning entire meals around the kids and just make what my husband and I enjoy. And they’ll just have to learn how to like it or be hungry enough at their next meal not to care.
Date nights. Most parents you talk to swear up and down that their children are the best thing that’s happened to them. And yes, I completely agree that as an independent person, my children have changed my life and increased my happiness in ways that I never imagined. But the effect that they have on your relationship as a couple is an entirely different animal. The teamwork required in raising children is mind boggling. Think rowing crew, cheerleader pyramid, Olympic games level communication and effort. Except the games you’re competing in are bodily fluid cleanup, sleep deprivation marathons, grocery shopping relays with a screaming child, and tantrum defusing. And let’s face it, since you can’t take your frustration out on the kids, you’re definitely going to turn on each other. If you don’t take time away from them, to appreciate each other and remember who you were as a couple before kids, you will inevitably chip away into roommates – and not even ones that like each other, like a potluck roommate you got stuck with. Find a sitter, a grandparent, or another couple you can trade babysitting duties with, and take time away from the kids, even if it’s just for an hour a week. To save your marriage, your partnership, your relationship, give yourselves that time together.
Let go of the worry. I have always been a worrier, and had a compulsory need to control things, but nothing prepares you for the worry, anxiety, and paranoia that comes with being a parent. There are basically endless daily opportunities for you to mess up your kids, and if you somehow manage to sidestep those, there’s always the entire world around them to mess things up for you. But I have finally learned to let go of the reigns, and that I can’t live in constant fear of every virus, stranger, or bully that my kids encounter. I can only do my best to keep them safe while at the same time teaching them how to maneuver the very tricky world around them. I always believed you don’t let go of your children until they fly the nest, but the truth is you let go of a little bit of them every day. As they learn to do things on their own, they need you less. You’re forced to trust that they are absorbing what you teach them, and give them a chance to exercise their independence. You survived scraped knees, mean kids (and adults), and heartbreak, and so will they.
Do you. Do the things that make you happy, even if it means being without your family sometimes. For me, this is more cooking (as previously mentioned, food that I like), more reading, more writing, more dinner with girlfriends, more trips with just the husband. But realistically, there needs to be at least one time weekly (or even more if you can manage it) where you spend time alone. Let your husband handle the bedtime routine while you read or take a bath. Find another mom you can trade babysitting duties with and spend an hour at Target or get a massage. Give yourself a little time to decompress and you may actually find yourself missing the kids again.
Let Go of the Mom Guilt. In addition to the wife guilt, daughter guilt, friend guilt, woman guilt, SAHM guilt. Say goodbye to all of it. A pile of week old unfolded laundry made a great fort for the kids, a week of takeout means less time cooking and more time with the family, a minefield of toys means the kids had fun playing all day. Who cares if there are no party favors or professional holiday photos? It’s time to reframe the stuff that doesn’t matter, and focus on what you did instead of didn’t do. There’s no point in lingering on a perfect version of things, and there’s always a new day tomorrow.
It’s hard as a parent to remember that not everything has to be about the kids all the time. There will be sacrifices, and there will be things about yourself that you’ll have to be okay with saying goodbye to – maybe forever, but you’re allowed to hang on to the things that make you feel whole. You’re allowed to keep and value your identity. And by being selfish sometimes, you’ll keep that pilot light inside you going for the days you feel like giving up. And let’s be honest, if you’re happy, your family will follow suit.