“WHHHHAAAATTT?!” I said this last weekend after my son called for me from another room. He came into the kitchen where I was standing at the counter, likely making my kids a meal or cleaning up after a meal I had just provided, and said my name again. I don’t know how many times I had heard one of my children say “Mama,” but hearing it that time tipped the number to too many. I was exhausted. Exasperated. Cranky. Honestly, I was depressed. I didn’t want to be needed, talked to, or told to watch something. I wanted to be alone.
“WHAT?!” I looked up from what I was doing and saw my 6-year-old’s face fall.
“Never mind,” he said and started to walk away.
Fuck. In a fraction of a second, I went from not wanting to be a parent to wanting to be the best version of my parenting self. I took a deep breath, pulled a tiny bit of patience in and then sighed as if to soften my sharp edges, “Sorry, buddy. What you do you need?”
I don’t remember what he told me, but he seemed to shake off my shitty mood quicker than I was able to shake off my guilt for being in a shitty mood.
My son is one of three. And while he hadn’t said my name three times in the span of a minute, he was a third of the reason why I was feeling henpecked. It didn’t matter that his wants and needs are independent from his sisters’. It didn’t matter that of all three of my kids, he is the least likely to demand my attention. It didn’t matter that I love being a mom. There was no rationalizing away my feelings. I was miserable. And it didn’t matter to him that I was miserable, nor should it—at least not in the adult way that would allow him to have the empathy and compassion to comfort another human struggling with life. He is my son, a child. He is not my caregiver or responsible for my emotional wellbeing.
My oldest daughter is 8 and my twins are 6. Yes, I am blessed. I am also fucking exhausted. Just maintaining the bare minimum of keeping them healthy and on time is a full-time job. I am slowly trusting their ability to take on more responsibility. But they forget steps in the routine for school, bed, and just getting out of the house. Sneakers. Brush your teeth. SHUT THE DOOR. Their independence creates messes and cries of frustration. I need help! Oh no. NAPKIN! Can you wipe me?!
I am no longer changing diapers and serving bottles, but taking care of my kids is still a very physical job. Worrying about them, thinking ahead to all there is to do, managing their big emotions, and negotiating strategies for effective consequences for three different personalities takes it out of me. Yet there is an expectation that I am supposed to be able to do it all, and most of that expectation is self-imposed.
I feel like I can’t do anything well.
This thought keeps pounding its way from my brain to my heart, and it feels bigger than usual because in some ways it’s true. I am going through very big and personal shifts right now. I am struggling. I am trying to navigate my own big emotions and the changes in my life while trying to work, be a good friend, balance sobriety and physical health, and be a quality co-parent. I can barely breathe on some days, yet my kids demand snacks, need to know how long it would take to sail around the world, and want to play games that require patience, focus, and concentration.
Do it well and do it with grace.
The alarm goes off each morning, and I drag myself out of bed. I go through the motions. And on some days, when everyone is finally out of the house, I cry. I am overwhelmed. I feel stuck in the middle. Life is about transition; we are always changing. But sometimes the transitions are not just the everyday shifts of aging and time. Sometimes life’s transitions are about uprooting and starting over—a literal shake up to what we know of normalcy. Divorce, death, illness, and job loss create an unsteadiness that feels unsafe. But as parents, we have to tread those scary waters without creating fear and uneasiness in our kids. I am currently showing all of my roots. I feel vulnerable and exposed most of the time. And parenting, especially parenting multiple kids, impacts my daily life in a way that compromises my mental health.
Because when I am putting their needs first, my own needs inherently take a back seat. I am not allowing myself to process, heal, or dig into what’s next as fast as I would like. Going slow is an act of concentration, and I am weary. I can feel it in my bones. Right now all of the moments that require me to parent remind me that I am choosing them over me. That’s what parents are supposed to do, right? I chose to be a parent. This is my job. My kids are supposed to give me joy, but when I am struggling to muster my own joy it’s hard to see them as more than emotional and physical leeches.
What is wrong with me?
Nothing. Nothing is wrong with me. I have needs that are not being met. That rubs against my kids’ constant declaration of their needs and wants. Even if I don’t do or provide the thing they want, I am still filtering noise. I am still weighing what I can give and what I can carry. I can barely carry myself, so I will try to let go of the guilt of being human.