I don’t think there are any new parents out there who haven’t been told to find a routine that works and stick to it.
I heard it a lot, and I followed the advice as best I could after my first was born. And after two more kids followed on the heels of his birth, I craved some sort of consistency in my chaotic days. That’s why having a routine helped me tremendously.
Of course, it didn’t mean our life went smoothly; those kinds of days are few and far between after you have kids, especially more than one. You can’t depend on them sleeping or eating as much as you think they should, and you have no idea when the hell they are going to have a blowout in their pants (probably as soon as you get them all settled in their high chair at a restaurant). You can only be prepared for these situations, and even then, it’s a crapshoot.
But when my kids were young, I clung to that routine. I depended on it. Even if we had a horrible lunchtime, which included at least one of my kids not eating and making a huge mess while crying because their apple wasn’t cut right, I knew (hopefully) a nap would follow. I knew if my child got fussy in the grocery store there was usually a snack or drink I could bribe them with to get me through. I knew what TV shows they liked. I knew when I started dinner that if they got fussy or needed their ass wiped, I could put something down, step away, and get back to it later. The emergencies needed tending; everything else could wait. It had to wait.
Sometimes I came to this realization sooner than later. Moms certainly have a habit of making things harder for ourselves because we constantly try to get every single thing done, but my point is, I knew. I knew where all of my kids were (usually underfoot). I knew they were all safe. I felt like I could handle the day-to-day, even if it didn’t always go in my favor, as long as I had an idea of what to expect next.
The dirty dishes could be left in the sink. The beds and laundry could go ignored for days if we were sick. I could turn on the TV and feed my kids fruit snacks if I felt like reading or baking or making a phone call or I just needed them to shut the hell up. We didn’t have to get dressed for three days straight if I didn’t have it in me.
I could pack them in the car, and they would be buckled safely in their car seats (with some luck, one of them would fall asleep), and I could hit the drive-thru and get a caffeine fix and sit in the parking lot and stare off into space. There were days they cried, and I let them because I needed to get out of the house without having a wrestling match every once in a while. It didn’t matter if they were wearing shoes or coats if we were just sitting in the car, and who cared if their hair was combed. I needed a change of scenery, and this (and french fries and a cold drink) always helped me get through those tough days.
While I was in the trenches. I was okay. I was handling it — the exhaustion, the frustration, the not- enjoying-every-moment-but-knowing-I-should-be-enjoying every-moment. The hiding in my bathroom or closet, the desperate phone calls to my best friend while the kids napped. I had it handled. It might not have looked “handled,” but it was.
The thing about having small kids is you can come unhinged really fast, then an hour later they are doing something so adorable and it takes all your angst away. Their sweet thoughts, the way they mispronounce words, their laughter, when they hold your face in their hands and plant a wet kiss on your face you still feel hours later. The things that seemed so huge become a distant memory so fast, and all you can think about is how you are bursting with love and you want so much for them.
But now my kids are not little anymore, and in their older years, I am struggling. They are self-sufficient, they are quiet, and most days are peaceful. I sleep, I have more energy, and I have more me time. It is glorious, for sure, but also the problems are big now — they don’t fade as fast.
I can’t hide in the bathroom when my son comes to me and wants to talk about how his friends are sexting. When my daughter is having friendship trouble, I can’t put her down for a nap. There is tumultuous shit happening in their lives, interwoven with all the wonderful experiences they are having, and I have to stand up and deal. Fruit snacks can’t fix everything these days (though they are still a pantry staple). I cannot brush these talks, their feelings, my feelings, these huge issues aside.
So yeah, I am out of the trenches, but I am struggling more now than I was then.
We have to get dressed everyday now and leave the house, regardless of our moods. My biggest struggle is not having the stomach flu, or a teething baby that doesn’t sleep all night long. The issues we are dealing with now? They swallow me right up. I don’t have the same game face and tenacity I had during the toddler years. And I kind of miss that face.
But it is okay because when I watch my daughter befriend a lonely classmate, or my son having a great time volunteering at the Red Cross, or any time they decide on their own to do the right thing, it gets me through.
The struggle, it will be worth it because it has always been worth it, and I have to keep pushing through.
And I have to say, sometimes staring out the window with a Diet Coke does help.