The past two weeks, I have found myself resenting motherhood. Each time one of my children asks me for another glass of water, my skin crawls. When my 3-year-old wants me to play superheroes with him, I slouch on the couch, sneaking peeks at my phone to break up the monotony. When my older son comes home cranky from school, I have zero patience for him and end up yelling over the littlest things.
I was trying to figure out why I’ve been feeling so downright awful. Is it because I haven’t been getting enough sunlight this winter? Is it the particular stages my kids are in? Was it the coughs and colds that kept me up a few nights in a row? Yes, probably all those things, to some extent.
But I realized that the biggest reason I have felt stretched to my limit is because my husband has been working very late, very often over the past few weeks, and I have been doing this parenting gig mostly alone, and for many hours in a row.
I know how fortunate I am to have a husband who comes home at a reasonable hour most of the time. My mother was a single mother, and I remember how totally exhausted she was after working all day and then having to deal with the antics of her daughters all evening. So I am in no way comparing myself to a single mother or someone whose husband works late on a daily basis.
But I think that no matter what your life looks like and whatever challenges you have, parenting is not meant to be done for days on end, virtually alone.
My husband is a teacher. He’s up at 5 a.m. so he can get to work before his students arrive. It’s just me, from the crack of dawn until he gets home. My older son goes to elementary school, so I don’t have to parent him for a good six hours, but my 3-year-old is home with me all day. In all, I’m in charge of kids for 10 to 14 hours a day, depending on how late my husband works.
Per week, that’s as much as 70 hours of child care. It’s 15 or more meals (half of which are rejected); 5 mornings hustling cranky kids out the door; 5 after-school meltdowns; 45 million snacks; too many butt wipes to count; about 3 dozen messes to clean up; at least 5 dishwasher loads; 17 sweeps or vacuums; and about a trillion tears (theirs and mine).
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children to bits. It has been my choice to stay home with them for all these years, despite the fact that it is the hardest work I’ve ever done. They are bright, interesting, and teach me every day about love, acceptance, and compassion.
The monotony of motherhood can be broken up by hanging out with friends, and I do so for a couple hours here and there. But we are all so busy, and it’s hard to find times when our schedules line up just right. My mother is able to babysit a few hours a week, but that mostly gives me enough time to run a few errands. Babysitters in our area are very expensive, and with only one parent working full-time, paying for outside child care is not within our budget.
However my days go, it’s the weight of the responsibility that kills me—the feeling that everything having to do with my kids’ happiness and welfare rests of my shoulders. By 4 p.m., I’m toast. And on the days that my husband isn’t home by the dinner/bedtime rush, I start to feel those dark feelings of desperation—a cloud that covers my day and obliterates the simple joys I should be feeling toward my children.
I don’t think it’s supposed to be this way. I think we are supposed to be living in tighter-knit communities—and that childcare is meant to be more of a shared experience, with friends and family helping to shoulder some of the load. Those who work outside the home should have the option to work less and spend more time involved in the day-to-day responsibilities of child care.
For many of us, working less is an economic impossibility—I know it is for my husband. But in a country that purports to support family values, there should be more flexibility in work schedules, and more of an emphasis on family time. And there should be more low-cost, high-quality child care out there, like there is in so many developed countries around the world.
I can’t change the world alone (and certainly not with what little time I have!), but I think it’s worth saying that it just kinda sucks that it has to be this way. It’s not our fault that raising families can be so difficult and isolating sometimes—there are systemic problems that are contributing to the overwhelm that many of us feel. We all deserve more support, connection, and better family lives.
As for me, I’ve decided that I need to come up with more ways to take care of myself. If I don’t nurture myself, how can nurture my kids? I’m going to make a point to reach out more often for friendship, camaraderie, and help. I’m going to find moments for self-care (even if that means giving my kids extra screen time so I can have a nice, long shower).
And most of all, I’m going to remember that I can only do the best I can within the reality of what my life is right now—and that this too shall pass.