I always thought I was going to rock parenthood. I thought that I’d have all the answers, raise my kids “right” (whatever that meant) and find some way to make sure each of them always felt loved and wanted. I was also going to be this incredibly fun parent that had it all together while being there for all the big, important moments in life.
Clearly I was delusional, as most kidless people are about parenting.
At one point though, I felt like I was close to this person. When it was just my daughter I would talk through tantrums, kiss every mild boo boo without rolling my eyes and always ask thoughtful questions about how her day went. Sure I would have my moments, especially in infancy, but I’d rarely get frustrated because life was manageable with her.
I was able to be there and be present in the small moments – like when I rocked her to sleep at night – and the big, fun moments – like when we went to Disney World or a movie for the first time.
But something happened when we had our son. I feel like I lost my mom/home/life balance and never fully regained it. Because you can’t add more hours to the day, your time with each child is immediately cut in half.
Less time isn’t necessarily a bad thing because as children grow they want to be more independent, but time is a fickle thing. Kids grow so quickly and the days pass so fast that I often feel like I’m getting bogged down in all the details of life and missing the fun.
I get frustrated more easily, I roll my eyes, I yell more, have less patience. I often feel guilty reacting like this even though whatever caused it at the time probably equated to some sort of complete chaos with a healthy dose of consistent whining.
Somewhere along the way I realized it’s not even necessarily about dividing my time between them, it’s about everything else that goes along with having more than one kid – more laundry, more meal prep, more activities to run to, more homework, etc. The life stuff seems to get in the way of parenting.
Even now as a parent who works from home I struggle to feel like I have enough time for both of them with all the other things in life that need to get done.
I recently stumbled across a 2016 study from a Cornell scientist that explains why I feel so much more frustration now. The study concluded that parenting carries more strain for mothers. It showed that people who are parents experience greater happiness and meaning when they do activities with their children, as opposed to when they do things without them, but mothers feel more fatigue, stress and less happy than fathers do while parenting.
The study explained this by adding that mothers often do less fun things with children while parenting. We are cleaning, running to activities or appointments, grocery shopping, etc. Fathers get to spend more time playing with kids.
“Mothers are doing different things with their children than fathers are, things that we know aren’t as enjoyable,” said Kelly Musick, associate professor of policy analysis and management and co-author of the study. “Playing with their kids is a particularly enjoyable experience for parents. And dads are doing more play as a share of the total amount of time they spend with their kids.”
Yes! Yes! Yes! This completely describes my life with the kids. It wasn’t as bad when I had one kid because I was able to balance it more easily. It was there but it’s amplified now that I have two kids.
I’m the one that often disciplines both of them and regularly cleans up the toys, which doesn’t seem to count for my husband because it gets messy again 20 minutes later. I cook almost all of our meals, do most of the laundry and I am in charge of homework.
“A lot of how parents feel about parenting is based on incidental moments with kids like hanging out on the couch or going grocery shopping,” Musick said. “There’s a lot of parenting involved in those small moments.”
I parent in the all the non-fun situations of life. If truth be told, I’m often jealous that my husband gets so much time playing with the kids while I seem to get the leftover parenting moments that leave me feeling like I’m not a good parent.
The truth is though that it’s me that has to readjust my thinking. I’m not sure if I’m ever going to feel like I get to be the parent I want to be because there is all this other life stuff I have to take care of. My husband will always get to be the fun one, at least for the foreseeable future.
I may not be rocking motherhood in the way I dreamed of. However, if I can continue to parent both of them well in those in between, everyday moments I can still make a positive impact on their lives.
The big moments may be the memories we make but the small moments are the pieces of our days that string life together. The small moments create consistency, norms and help children see boundaries and expectations more clearly. If I have to miss out on some of the fun to create an environment for my kids that helps them to function as happy, successful adults then so be it. Life isn’t about rocking parenthood, it’s about sacrificing the life you imagined so they can have the life they deserve.