We’ve just finished our holiday dinner, and the adults are ready to unwind. It’s time to pour another drink, settle in, and socialize. It’s the time of the evening filled with belly laughs, table gambling games, and an unexpectedly wonderful couch conversation. But while everyone else is winding down, I am furiously cleaning, breaking up arguments, and wrestling coats on little bodies to ensure a timely arrival home for our bloodbath of a bedtime routine. Because I have four little kids, and my siblings have none. And with no cousins or other family members with young kids, I bring all the chaos: the tantrums, the messes, and the bedtime constraints. And sometimes, it stresses me out.
As the oldest of three, I always naively assumed we would be raising kids at the same time. We are pretty close in age, and I just thought we would all live close to one another and lead fairly similar lives. Well, we haven’t really. One brother lives across the country, while the other is living his life on a timeline different from my own. And while our family dynamic is amazing in many ways, sometimes being the only parent amongst them feels hard.
I feel jealous of their freedom. With everyone in town for holidays, they make spur of the moment plans. They pack up for an afternoon in the city and extend gatherings long into the night. As an introvert, I spend most of the year leaning into motherhood duties to avoid social situations. Still, for these couple of days, I am riddled with FOMO, wishing I was more portable and freed up for all the adult family fun because last-minute lunch dates, late-night drives, and fancy restaurant dinners are not as easy (or fun) with four little kids in tow.
It is also hard to parent in front of non-parents — even when they are loving and patient — because, let’s be honest, we all remember what it was like on the other side. Sitting on the couch watching someone try to tame their tantrum-throwing child as we silently made mental notes of all of their mistakes to prevent them in the future with our children. So even when you know you are amongst allies, sometimes you feel judged. This is especially true when you have emotional, stubborn, over-exuberant kids like mine. Because even though it is likely just your own insecurities and anxieties at play, it can feel like your parenting strategies are on center stage.
And even though I feel proud of the joy and happiness they bring to events, there is also a feeling of guilt. I feel guilty watching members of my family shower my children with gifts, knowing that my household is much bigger than any of the others. To feed us, host us, or celebrate with all of us is a lot. I feel guilty when moments of enjoyment or calm become instantly chaotic due to my toddler’s wrinkled sock, misplaced spoon, or nudged shoulder. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t always someone from my house causing the commotion.
But then I wonder, is this narrative I am telling myself even real? Of course, I do wish I could be available for some of the inconvenient, impromptu adult stuff, but mostly I am grateful for a life tethered to my kids. And I think the magnifying glass that I use to see all my kids’ behaviors through only exists for me. While my siblings might roll their eyes in some of the louder, more electric moments, I think they mostly get a kick out of the whole scene. I think the enjoyment and humor they find in watching my kids (and watching me and my husband try to tame my kids) far outweighs any level of ‘inconvenienced’ they might feel in the more difficult moments. And maybe someday they will have children of their own, and I will be able to host and celebrate them. And then I will truly realize that the addition of more little people to any holiday family function is not a burden at all but the greatest joy.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.