When I was growing up, my family would always tease me that I was the self-proclaimed “tiredest person I knew”. I never actually said that, but the sentiment was quite spot on. I loved to sleep. Being curled up in bed was my happy place. Even as a teenager I’d often get home and take a cat nap after school.
And it continued well into adulthood. I’ve always been a terrible mornings person and could easily sleep in until 10 or 11 o’clock on the weekends. Pure bliss.
Now when I look back to those pre-kid days, I get mad at my younger self. Not only did I take for complete granted the luxury of sleep, but there were also times that I genuinely considered myself to be tired. No. Just no. Not even close.
For me, the reality of exhaustion came crashing down with parenthood. I have never felt more tired in my life. I’m bloody exhausted. And I’ve only been doing it for a few years!
Of course, the sheer exhaustion is balanced out by all those rewarding moments. Isn’t it? Yes, of course. Maybe? I’m possibly too tired to really reach a sensible conclusion on the matter 😉
What I have determined is that the fatigue takes many forms. And there’s so much more to it than the sleepless nights. It’s physical, mental AND emotional.
There are many reasons why parents are always so tired. Oh sleep and relaxation, how do I miss thee? Let me count the ways.
#1 Carrying ALL of the things. ALL of the time
Before becoming a parent, I never realized that something like this would even be an issue. But it seems as though the “carrying”, whether it be a baby, a toddler or giant armfuls of their stuff, is relentless.
All day long I carry children up and down stairs. I transport snacks and sippy cups around the house. I carry toys from one room to another. Then I carry the aforementioned toys back again, because my three year old has already moved on to the next thing. I carry huge baskets brimming with clothes to and from the laundry room multiple times a day.
I lug the car seat into the car and then back out again. And I carry the baby around the grocery store (and anywhere else we go for that matter). Let’s not forget the one ton diaper bag that I carry everywhere.
My back hurts, my knees creak and my arms ache. The mere thought of carrying one more thing is making me feel horribly exhausted right this minute.
#2 The never-ending cleaning and tidying
The toys strewn everywhere. Clothes on the floor. Sticky finger prints all over the windows. Little cups, plates, bowls and bottles that need to be washed constantly throughout day. Goopy faces and hands that always need wiping.
My standards for cleanliness are diminishing on a daily basis, because who has time for all that?! I basically use baby wipes to clean the whole house these days.
But the laundry is by far the worst.
I clearly remember one fateful day when my youngest was just a couple of weeks old. My husband was back at work and I spent a lot of time freaking out about how to take care of the two little ones all by myself (you can read about that experience here).
I had already dealt with one exploding diaper that morning. I’d managed to get all of the contaminated items rinsed off and into the washing machine. The baby had been cleaned up and my three year old was dressed. It was after lunchtime by this point, but we were ready to go out and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.
As I was about to load my baby girl into the car seat, I noticed an unpleasant smell wafting up. It was the unmistakable stench of ammonia. Yes, that’s right, pee. Cat pee to be exact. One of my cats was sending a clear signal that they were not happy with the current state of affairs in our household. I was sorely tempted to put that cat up for sale right there and then.
And of course it meant that we were unable to go anywhere. We were effectively stranded. It took the rest of the day for me to disassemble the car seat and ensure that everything was thoroughly disinfected.
Our whole day had been derailed by bodily fluids and the requisite cleaning involved. I’m quite sure that I was crying in a heap on the floor by the time my husband got home from work that evening.
#3 Not getting a decent night’s sleep for as long as we can remember (and the prospect of never getting one again)
I honestly can’t recall the last time I got a a solid 5+ hours of shut eye. We all know that this goes with the territory, but it’s utterly draining nonetheless.
It starts with pregnancy, when it becomes almost impossible to get comfy enough to sleep properly. I always joked that it was mother nature’s way of preparing us for what’s to come. Ha ha.
Now that my youngest is starting to (sort of ) sleep through the night, I’m awake anyway worrying that something must be wrong. I have to fight the temptation to creep into her room and check that she’s breathing.
And at the same time, our three year, and formerly brilliant sleeper, has started having bad dreams (a unicorn fell out of the sky!). Or sometimes she just wakes up for no apparent reason and appears spookily by our bed in the middle of the night with a random request.
I hear from friends with older kids that the sleep issues just change over time, but never really go away.
I’m fearful that when the children are grown and I do have the luxury of being able to sleep in again, I just won’t be able to do it. That my body clock has been irrevocably altered and will never be able to revert back to its old ways!
#4 The sheer lack of respite
If we weren’t already completely drained by the sleep deprivation, the absence of any downtime at all to recuperate just compounds things.
It’s not like we can just take the day off. And as most of us will know, getting sick at the same time as caring for young children is the absolute worst. Pure misery.
But even when everything’s going smoothly, it can be exhausting to never get a moment to yourself. It’s absolutely true to say that my work days (I work part time) are the closest thing I get to a break at the moment. And that’s not because my work is easy or relaxing, but rather it’s the only time I might get to finish a cup of coffee or go to the loo undisturbed. Ugh!
#5 Having to remember everything
I recently read an interesting article by the French comic artist Emma which described the “mental load” that many parents, and particularly mothers, have to carry. You may have heard about it – it’s been doing the rounds on social media as it seems to have struck a chord with so many moms.
You can read the full article here, but the term basically refers to the invisible management job of ensuring that everything gets done around the house and the mental burden of having to keep track of it all. It makes the important distinction between just doing the tasks and remembering that the tasks need to be done.
In my case, it mostly relates to the many small, less tangible child-related tasks, that add up quickly and make my head spin! Things like remembering doctor and dentist appointments. Remembering that the baby is about to go up a clothing size. Or that there are birthday presents to buy and thank you cards to send. It could be remembering to send an email to the school. Or that it’s time to get the baby onto a nap schedule. The list goes on and on.
I’m fortunate that my husband and I genuinely do split the household chores equally, but when it comes to managing all of the little details relating to our kids, that tends to be my area. And it can be exhausting!
#6 The constant worry
I’ve always been a worrier, and having kids has just exacerbated things. Take the above point about the mental load… I certainly add to my own burden because I tend to worry so much about everything!
But I’m sure that even the most laid back parents feel anxious from time to time, because there’s just SO MUCH to worry about.
From the moment our children are born, there are an endless number of potential dangers to fret about. From SIDs to choking hazards to germs, we have to be on guard constantly. Then there are the perpetual niggling doubts. Are we making sure that they’re eating right? Are we raising them to be good people? And are they happy?!
My children aren’t even in school yet. I can only imagine that the worries with change and intensify as they grow older and more complicated.
It’s funny to think that as parents we’re all dealing with this kind of exhaustion to some degree. I know that it’s going on behind the scenes, but most of my parent friends seem to be so pulled together. They’re getting on with things and hardly complaining.
Any maybe that’s because despite being really, exceptionally tired, this is our new normal, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sleep well my friends!