A Step-By-Step Survival Guide For The Toughest Days Of Parenting

by Elizabeth Broadbent
PeopleImages / iStock

The baby woke up at 3 a.m. and never went back to sleep. Someone peed the bed at 4 a.m. and never went back to sleep. Your 4-year-old spent the night kicking you in the ribs; the baby woke a record eight times. However you got here, it’s now 7 a.m., the kids are beginning to stir, and you have to parent. You’re sleep-deprived. You could pack a two-week trip with the bags under your eyes. The light hurts your retinas, and the crying hurts your head. You would sell your soul to Satan — well, maybe not Satan, but a minor deity — to crawl back in bed. But that’s not possible, friend. You have to parent.

First, don the uniform: You need to be comfortable today in yoga pants and a T-shirt. Put on a sleep bra so the girls don’t bounce around and annoy you. You don’t need to bother with actual clothes, though. Don’t delude yourself — you’re on a road to nowhere, sweetheart. Your ass will be firmly planted in this house.

Next, put on the coffee. While the coffee’s brewing, eat something — a banana, some Cheerios, maybe a muffin. You’re going to swill a lot of caffeine today, and if you do it on an empty stomach, you’ll collapse of nausea. You need to pace yourself, honey. For every two cups, have some food. The combination will keep you vertical.

Then the kids wake up. You produce food for a “picnic” in front of the TV. This food should be muffins or toast — something you don’t have to exert yourself over and which won’t get too messy. That is, unless you have a dog, in which case feed your kids cereal, because you own a living vacuum cleaner. Make sure you include drinks — water, for easy cleanup — and napkins.

We have a standing rule: I refuse to parent before 9 a.m. on days like this. Therefore, you have two guilt-free hours of screen time. Netflix yourself some Puffin Rock or The Magic School Bus. Let the kids eat their breakfast. Make sure the hot coffee is out of the way. Then lie down on the couch and doze. Sleep as much as you can without interruptions for more food, more drink, or more TV. Your children may try to lie on you. Move to the loveseat. If they still try to lie on you, tell them to build a pillow fort on the floor. You’ll have to clean it later, but it’s worth the sweet, sweet sleep.

It’s 9 a.m. You need to parent, but minimally. Break out the big guns: crayons and stickers. Put them on the living room floor, and get back into your doze. You’ll be constantly interrupted by them showing you their creations. You will say, “That is so beautiful. Tell me about your picture,” because you can’t tell if it’s a turd or a dinosaur. They will tell you it’s a pirate ship. You will admire it and ask them to draw you another. This is parenting.

Depending on your children, your slack-ass respite will last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour and a half. However long it lasts, when they’re done, you’re going to need to give them some quality time. Refill your coffee cup. Announce it’s time to read. Your children will bring you books. You can read them out loud. Keep refilling your coffee. The kids will feel like you paid an appropriate amount of attention to them with a minimal amount of exertion on your part.

Now it’s time for free play. Start it off by pretending you’re all hibernating bears. When that gets boring, try to get them to play the Quiet Game. That will probably wear off quickly unless the winner gets a marshmallow, which may not be great parenting but is a superb survival skill. Eventually, they’ll get sick of this too. Tell them to go play. Ignore the thumps, bangs, and horrible, horrible dumping sounds coming from their bedrooms. You can clean it up later. Drink some more coffee and try to keep it together.

Lunchtime is simple: Peanut butter and jelly is the ultimate survival food. Slices of bread, peanut butter, jelly — this counts as an actual meal here in America. It’s also full of protein, so they won’t bother you whining for snacks all afternoon. (Note: They will still bother you whining for snacks all afternoon). Feed them at the table this time, because peanut butter.

Now it’s time to play movie theater! Pop some popcorn. You keep some on hand exactly for these occasions, don’t you? Turn off all the lights, put down a blanket and pillows. Don’t pick a movie some dumbass filmmaker decided to run for only 80 minutes. You’re looking for length. If not, you can always run a double feature while you nap. In fact, run a double feature anyway. No one’s judging you here.

Then it’s watercolor time! Set up paints at the dinner table while you drink coffee and slump sadly against the wall. Admire their pictures. You’re a good parent, see? You’re facilitating art! Watercolors should last even the most boring child half an hour. Once that’s over, it’s cleanup time.

Later has arrived. Guzzle a cup of coffee so you can muster the strength to sing the cleanup song. Force the children, by song or threat, to clean up the mess they made this morning. Slump against the wall, holding your coffee and order them around. Pick up the dinosaurs! Now the pillows! Put the comforter back on your bed! Enough singing and threatening will get it done, especially if you can muster the strength to help.

Dinner is pasta. Hey, it’s a hot meal. Turn on the TV while you cook. Have another picnic. Do not turn off the TV until bedtime. Post-bedtime ritual, you can either take a shower or go to sleep. You will choose to sleep. Otherwise, you weren’t all that tired to begin with.

Congratulate yourself. You survived.

Tomorrow is a new day.