I recently got home from a week-long family vacation. My husband and I packed up our four kids, nine and under, and headed to meet my parents, my brother, and my sister-in-law at a beautiful, spacious lakefront property in New Hampshire. I was a little skeptical leading up, assuming we might need some breaks from each other throughout the week and some off-property excursions to keep us entertained. But I was wrong. It was a perfectly magical and relaxing vacation that I did not know I needed so desperately.
Despite the chaos that four kids brings to my life, I have been longing for one more baby since my last was born. I have been working through intense grief knowing that I am done having kids and fighting the push and pull of feelings associated with this choice. I think my desire is rooted in an inability to envision happiness beyond this stage of my life. I simply can't imagine myself happy without at least one set of tiny hands reaching up for me all day. I trudge through the weeds of drop offs, pickups, meltdowns, diaper changes, sports practices, and everything in between, assuring myself that I have plenty of room for more.
And I do this to avoid the grief — but I also do it because I believe it. Yes, life with four little kids is wild and crazy and exhausting, but I would not say that I am overwhelmed. I would say I am doing fine without a ton of help. Or I would have said that — until I experienced a week-long vacation with endless adult assistance. Apparently I did not know how much help I really needed, until I got it.
The truth is, as a SAHM, I often feel guilty asking for help. I don’t feel worthy, since I am not working outside the home full time, and a voice in the back of my head often whispers (loudly) “you and your husband made the decision to have all these kids, so the responsibilities are all yours!” I can also get a bit self-righteous with it, always trying to prove how capable I am at managing the madness on my own.
But a week’s worth of high-powered parenting assistance? Now that was eye opening. I am used to getting little spurts of help — a morning or even a full day — but a week?! Seven whole days in a spacious home with four kids and six willing, able, loving adults. My dad took the morning shift of LOL Surprise Dolls and Barbies, my brother and sister in law spent hours in the lake and on kayaks, and my mother took daily walks with the stroller before making roughly forty seven grilled cheese sandwiches.
And you know what I did? I relaxed. I sat on the deck, laid on the couch, and floated on the lake. I sat in the hot tub, took long showers, and read three books. I came up for air and caught my breath, and it was glorious.
What’s the saying about not being able to see the forest through the trees? I think that is relevant here. Parenting is simply so relentless and all consuming that it often feels impossible to even see how overwhelmed you are when you are in it. But with a little space, it was very clear that I am tired, overwhelmed, and maybe even a little burnt out. Because while I tell myself that the only thing in life that I truly enjoy is time with my kids — the solo pool float and book reads felt really, really good.
So now I am (working on) giving myself more grace. I am celebrating my accomplishments, and allowing myself permission to forgo guilt when I feel overwhelmed. Because this is hard, and I am tired. And I’m going to ask for more help — even on occasions when the sole purpose is so I can do something relaxing. Because I have earned it and I need it, and there is no shame in that. And when I think about my future without babies or toddlers, triggering feelings of loneliness and anxiety, I will remember how I felt lounging alone on that tube in the lake.
Maybe there is happiness in a life beyond this current phase — with a little less chaos and a little more rest. I really hope so.
Samm Davidson is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.