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.
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.