Last month, my youngest child started Kindergarten. For the first time in almost eight years, my husband and I experienced a house without children during the daytime hours. I no longer had to pick up my son from preschool at 11:30 a.m., with his older sisters arriving at 3 p.m. on the afternoon bus. The days were suddenly ours to do all the things necessary to run a busy household, along with working.
Rewind the clock. In 2008 I hung up my hat as a public relations professional and decided to become the lead parent who stays at home during the day. The decision was born out of many reasons, mostly personal. I decided to pursue my writing while I enjoyed my newborn daughter and her two-year-old sister. I was selfish. I didn’t want to miss their milestones. I didn’t want to trudge through a day in the office after being up half the night with a teething baby. I wanted to be in the MOMS Club and take my girls to the park during the daylight hours. I wanted them to experience playgroups and music classes. I wanted to hear their giggles and dry their tears.
In all of that idealism, I didn’t realize how hard the job would be. Like so many others who test the waters and decide to become stay-at-home parents, I was shocked. At times, I was pretty overwhelmed. I carried around a large bag that contained a tube of oozing diaper rash cream and an arsenal of kid-friendly pre-packaged snacks that often became a mass of crumbs while still encased in their wrappers. The inside of my minivan (yes, we got a minivan) could duel for a small shelter. There were containers of wipes, bottles of water, and a variety of blankets. Add to that a few rogue socks and you have a pretty good picture of what my new office looked like. Then, I did the unthinkable. I got pregnant again. For nearly another year after the birth of our third child I had diaper duty for two!
I realize that three children may not constitute a huge family. But I can tell you there were moments I felt like I had responsibility for a third-world country. Add a little sleep deprivation to that equation, and some days I felt like bedtime would never come. I’d call my husband while he was at work—sometimes several times a day—to report on the activities at home. I needed another adult to commiserate with; I missed my former work colleagues and the 45-minute lunch I had each day. If the cat vomited a hairball or an appliance malfunctioned, it would nearly put me over the edge. Getting dressed was often a chore, with a closet that contained elastic-waist pants in the place of my tailored size 2s from my more glamorous career days.
Thankfully, although the days were often overwhelming, I was never depressed. So many mothers secretly fight depression, whether pregnancy related or not. If you are one of them, please get the help you need. There is no shame in getting treatment.
Although these days were exhausting, I look back with gratitude. I sang to my babies, and I covered them in kisses from their chubby cheeks to their round, soft bellies. I sat on the floor with them while they played. I laughed out loud several times each day with the funny things my older child would say, especially when she seemed to understand how demanding our life had become, even though she was just four-years-old.
I was tired, and the house was often a mess. But as time went on, I figured out our new reality, that season of parenting young children. I exercised to keep my mental and physical health in balance. I learned to treat myself well and not be a perfectionist. My babies grew and started sleeping better at night, a very refreshing change for me. Suddenly, I was down to only one in diapers. Then one day my oldest daughter went to Kindergarten, and her baby sister started preschool.
I compiled pictures from these precious moments into multiple photobooks. Today, my 6- 7- and 10-year-old children love leafing through those pages, asking me questions about our lives during those years. They laugh and remember quite a few details about those hectic moments.
As someone once told me: The days are long, but the years are short. If you’re in the heart of your busy parenting season, this may not offer you much solace, but it makes so much sense to me now.