Light at the end of the tunnel

When my babies were smaller I often looked to women a few years further down the line for reassurance; that they had also found it tough and that it would get easier.

We were through the initial Fog and in to what we like to call the Survival Phase. On occasion it felt like there wasn’t a lot of joy in life, just getting through the day with as little catastrophe, leaking bodily fluids and meltdowns (from all of us) as possible.

Sometimes women would say lovely things and give one of those slightly longer than necessary hugs that told me they knew, they remembered. Quite often though, they’d say ‘well, we get more sleep’ *hopes raised* ‘but you just swap the worry about eating and sleeping for anxiety about their friendships and choices like school and you drive them around a lot’. And I’d walk away feeling a bit crushed. Because I was so very tired and it felt like maybe life was just going to be a struggle of tiredness and dissipating unreasonable kids, some bickering with Doug thrown in.

I’ve no idea what happens when they’re teenagers. My kids are two and four. But in recent months something has been happening and I feel like I should share it because goddammit all the knackered parents with toddlers – or *gulps* two or three small ones – NEED hope. On those days when your chidren sap every ounce of your patience, energy and leave you feeling like a total failure because you’ve no idea why they’re screaming and chucking stuff on the ground but you’re pretty sure you’ve cocked them up. On those days we need to know that this is a phase. They won’t scream uncontrollably about the way you cut their toast forever.

It’s been a gradual thing. It’s being in the kitchen and realising that no one has come crying about something or wanted picking up for at least five minutes, peering in to the room they’re in expecting to see devastation and they’re playing together. It’s Buster coming in to the room having dressed himself in clothes I’ve put out and the pride on his face. It’s not feeling bitter about letting Doug have a lie in because I can see he needs it rather than being too tired myself to think of his needs as well as the kids’, and he then does the same for me. We’re kinder to each other because we have some capacity suddenly freed up by the kids just being a bit easier.

I recently took them swimming on my own – something I couldn’t have contemplated for the last couple of years because, well, one would likely have drowned. I put some pictures on Instagram and said that I thought it was getting easier and I had lots of lovely mums saying they needed to hear this, they needed to know they wouldn’t always feel so done in.

swimming with two

And THEN some other lovely mums said that their slightly older kids can now make a cup of tea. They can make their own breakfast. Indeed, you get a lie in while the kids trot downstairs and sort themselves out. They wipe their own bums (apparently not always to your satisfaction but hey, it’s a massive step up from crapping in their nappy multiple times a day). The intensity of what they need from you, which for a period was every single thing, is less.

This may all be fairly obvious but when you’ve been submerged in baby and toddler world for a few years, this is BIG news.

I adore my kids – I promise you I haven’t wanted to swap them, not once. That doesn’t mean having two close together wasn’t hard and I know so many people in the same boat that are doing an awesome job and feeling shattered. There’s also the guilt when you’re told that you should cherish every moment with small kids. I love this post from Suzanne because she has older kids and she hasn’t forgotten how it felt at times. Reading it made me feel better.

Now, I still have a two and a four year old and they are not always a breeze. Just this weekend a newly potty-trained Mabel unravelled a whole bog roll in to the toilet. Buster then crapped on the top and flushed it, creating a swirling blocked mess of…well, you know. Rubber gloves were involved. Within 15 minutes we had a double melt down over a lost Lego man’s lightsaber and who got to use the Spiderman cup. But rather than minor catastrophes that previously may have had the ability to ruin the day, we dealt with a bit of a rubbish hour and moved on and all sniggered a bit about the blocked toilet. (Less so me – I donned the rubber gloves…)

Maybe it’s not just that the kids are changing – perhaps it’s also to do with getting a bit more sleep and hormones having settled down. Having survived so far, I have more confidence that we’re not getting it horribly wrong so that’s one less thing to beat myself up about. I think I’ve always looked at people with older kids and thought they must’ve always known what they were doing and now I know that isn’t true. Perhaps it’s actually a combination of things getting a bit easier and learning to be a little kinder to yourself, especially compared to new mums who are so very hard on themselves. The physical demand is so different from a couple of years ago too, when I was feeding one and carrying a toddler about and my body didn’t feel like my own. I’ve no doubt that teenagers come with a whole other set of challenges, but perhaps the very fact that your body and brain are a bit more your own as they get older means your coping mechanism is better.

So to all the women feeling a little stretched, or in fact at the end of your tether, wondering if you’ll ever again skip out the house without it feeling like a military operation, or come out from bedtime and not want to sit in a comatose-like state on the sofa just staring at the shit-pit that was your lounge:

It’s coming. I promise you it’s around the corner. This is a phase and it will pass. You’re doing a grand job.


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22 thoughts on “Light at the end of the tunnel

  1. BySarahMostly says:

    The old adage ‘this too shall pass’ got me through the tricky bits when mine were young but only a parent without teens would say it gets easier! No seriously though, you’re in that lovely middle bit where everything does feel that bit better. The junior years I always called them and they are the easiest! Make the most of them before the horrid tween hormones hit at about 11/12 then you start a whole new cycle of hard parenting where you would give anything to go back to the relative ease of teething and temper tantrums! Ha!

    • Steph says:

      All good to know, thanks Sarah! I’m pregnant with number three so heading back teething and temper tantrums in a few months…

  2. Becky says:

    Steph you have described my life here! It’s so reassuring to read that not only does everyone go through it but it does get easier. I’m so looking forward to the next few years. Making breakfast themselves, amazing 🙂

  3. Rosie says:

    Thank you for this. Mine are 24 months and 11 weeks and sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind. The 11 week old still nurses every 2 hours, the 2 year old has started fighting sleep until 10pm and waking up at 5, and the world you’ve just described seems so incredibly far away. I feel guilty because their little lives are flying by so fast; I feel frustrated because this toddler-newborn phase seems never-ending. Mostly I want to sleep. I love my kids so much but I worry that I’m too bloody tired to show them this effectively. Thank you for the hope!

    • Steph says:

      Oh Rosie – definitely don’t doubt that they know you love them! I found this phase tough, when the second wasn’t newborn any more but the lack of sleep wasn’t improving! It will though, it really will. Do everything in your power to go to bed as soon as you can and nap at any opportunity and the world will definitely feel brighter xx

  4. Jude says:

    Swimming with two, my God, woman, you are BRAVE! We’re not there yet and not sure when we will be (I guess my two are growing up slower?!) but every now and then I get a glimmer of hope. Last week we sat in a pub garden with friends while all our kids played together by themselves for a whole hour!!!!! This bright shiny moment was like a window on a new world. I will never forget it. Great post and good on you. xxxx

    • Steph says:

      Exactly! Those moments when you think ‘hang on – I’ve sat down’! Thank you Jude – let there be HOPE xx

  5. Jo says:

    THANK YOU. I really needed to read this post! I have a 2 year old and a baby coming very very soon and have recently been wondering, during toddler meltdowns and memories on newborn sleepless nights how I am going to cope. So thank you. I know now that I will, just. X

    • Steph says:

      You definitely will! I remember being terrified when I was pregnant with my second – I think most people are – but you WILL survive and then you’ll have two gorgeous kids. TWO! Good luck x

  6. Rachael says:

    God I needed to read this!! I have a 2 year old daughter and a 3 year old son. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sat in tears at the end of they day saying to my husband ‘what have we done wrong’. They bicker all day, they trick me by playing nicely together for a minute, then I walk out of the room and within seconds they are both screaming, they want what the other has even If its a piece of crap!
    But suddenly, this week, we’ve had those moments where my husband and I whisper to each other ‘they’ve been playing for 5 whole minutes on their own, don’t move, don’t talk and don’t breathe, enjoy this moment!!!’
    I’ve left them together, in the same room and popped to put washing away, then panicked that they’ve both gone quiet, so rushed to see which one is unconscious and they’ve been led next to each other on the bed, Sid reading stories to Bea, heart melting moment.
    Thanks for the post, today will be a good day, and the holiday we have on monday…..7 days in a caravan in Wales….will be blissful right?!?!xxx

    • Steph says:

      Sure…totally…er…just kidding – I bet it’s better than it would have been. And that means you’re on the UP! We’re completely the same – today we say on sun loungers while they were in the pool – watching and nervously jumping up but still, we SAT DOWN. Good luck, and bloody well done with two little ones so close together x

  7. ems says:

    I mentionned that instagram chat to my nct girls the other day & we were all like..’there is light at the end of the tunnel, yaaay!’ I wouldnt change a thing now but its so reassuring to know what happens next as no one really talks about this stuff. Im dreaming about my breakfast in bed one day 🙂 Fab post xx

  8. Suzanne says:

    Thanks for mentioning my post Steph. I don’t like to freak people out by saying that you switch it from one nightmare to another because for some, it won’t be. I am finding the teenage years difficult but they aren’t exhausting and relentless in the same way as when they were toddlers. I remember going swimming with my two and feeling as though I’d really achieved something. Go you! x x

    • Steph says:

      Ha ha – thanks! Yep, the teenage years must be pretty traumatic – a different kind of trauma I suppose. But like you said in your post, you get moments of calm to yourself and I figure that has to help! xx

  9. Sam says:

    There really is a ‘eureka’ moment isn’t there, when you suddenly realise that things have just almost imperceptibly got a bit easier and you aren’t actually as exhausted and put upon as you once were. Mine are coming up 3 and 6 now and I think we’re getting to the ‘golden years’ slowly but surely. Yes it’s still bloody hard work a lot of the time – especially when they’re both around and both demanding stuff or bashing each other over the head but they are also getting to be such good friends too and often entertain each other with hide and seek and ball games in the garden and on the trampoline. And yes you’re right, mums at that earlier stage need to be told this – it isn’t as obvious as it seems when you are massively sleep deprived and can’t see the wood for the trees. Xx

    • Steph says:

      As if to prove a point mine were terrible at bedtime tonight! But still not as exhausting as they were (or I’m not as exhausted…)

  10. Alice says:

    Brilliant. In fact, I wish I had read this when I had three teeny ones! Those early days are the toughest – great but so, so tough.
    I remember getting to the point where you feel like you can enjoy life a little more. It’s great! I love the ages my kids are now (despite all the wailing this eve!) because I feel like I can really enjoy their company as little people. (That sounds weird but you know what I mean.)
    Love your writing, as ever!
    Alice xx

  11. cassie says:

    Currently lying comatose on the sofa. Staring at my shit pit of a lounge. THANK YOU. Mine are 3 and a half and 18 months. …not sure quite how much can change in 6 months or so but feeling hopeful enough to crawl to the fridge and reach for a gin and tonic in celebration of the possibility

    • Steph says:

      Ha ha. SO much I promise! They change so much from 3-4 (which explains a lot of the nightmare behaviour…) and then you can reason with them! Own that gin – you’ve worked for it x