I recently told a father of six under age twelve that I have no idea how parents of multiples survive, when I feel like I can barely handle one under age two.
“Oh, absolutely having one child is the hardest. You are her entertainment. It’s MUCH easier when not only she can unwrap her own cheese stick, but she can grab her sibling one too and leave you alone.”
I’ve spent the last week reflecting on his remark.
You know, I don’t have a plethora of experience with a soccer team of kids under my belt to usher in words of wisdom to you.
But I do have you. And you have me.
Listen, there will always be the age-old argument of who has it harder, stay at homes or working parents. I have been both, and I can say that there is one huge difference between the two.
Stay at home parenting babies and toddlers is incredibly lonely. I think depending on the environment, working parents can experience this also (like if they are the only parent of young ones in their department), but for the most part, every stay at home parent I’ve talked to readily admits that their most common feeling is loneliness. You are never alone, but always so…lonely.
I understand that I have been allowed an incredible gift, one that many parents wish they had the opportunity to do. For us, we couldn’t afford childcare…it came to either cutting our income in half and send her to daycare, or cut our income in half and one of us be there for her. We chose the latter, and it’s a wonderful thing that she and I get to be best friends. But, there’s a pretty big un-glamorous part of staying at home with children that no one really talks about, but the feeling is universal.
I feel guilty that so many parents wish this arrangement would be a fit for their family, while I sit and feel sorry for myself at times.
As an almost debilitating introvert, I find myself craving to have people over, to go anywhere, to do anything. Between saying “where’s your eyes?” for the eighteenth time in two minutes and watching her jump in excitement over the Daniel Tiger theme song, I just want someone to come talk at me about their life for fifteen minutes so I can hear actual words. Instead, I find myself looking up the easiest way to dye noodles different colors in my spare time. I want to actually be seen by someone as myself, instead of being someone’s mom.
Today’s social media doesn’t help. In an age where anyone we want is at our fingertips, we find that we barely know the neighbors living fifteen feet away. Outside of creeping on our friends for photos of their kids, have we actually seen them lately? Do we know what is actually going on in their lives?
For me, this “real world loneliness” contributes to feelings of depression licking my heels. I often feel like I’m failing – either the Little should be learning more, I should be getting more accomplished, every meal lovingly homemade every day. I mean, it’s not like I’m working, I’m in yoga pants and my child doesn’t care what my ponytail looks like.
Except I am working. 24 / 7 / 365 without paid vacation / sick pay / an HSA / a Roth IRA. Quite honestly, a typically thankless job on a day to day basis. The entire family can be throwing up sick, but the stay at home parent often feels like they need to keep the family together.
Again, I don’t have all the answers to offer up here. I can only tell you what I’ve been doing to lessen my loneliness recently:
- Reach out to someone. We don’t even call anyone anymore. I recently emailed a friend in a nearby town I haven’t seen in awhile, and she ended up being more than happy to come over for a cup of coffee the following week.
- Do something that gets your brain working. For me, I realized the darkness comes when I haven’t been creative in a few days, whether it’s crafting, cooking, or even making a toddler sensory bag. About six weeks ago, I promised myself I would do something creative every day. Sometimes, I don’t have time to do a project, because they all take at least a half hour. For those days, I pulled out a coloring book…super dorky, but it works for me for a five minute fix. Find what makes those endorphins for you.
- Be real, with yourself and others. Several weeks ago, I told a friend I was struggling with feeling like I was drowning at life. Come to find out, so did they, while they thought I had it all together! It was quite liberating to talk to one friend, and then another. I can tell myself all day long that I’m not alone, but it’s quite a different thing to hear it from someone else.
- Cling to your power statement. I have a couple of them on notecards around the house. Because sometimes, when I’m feeling sorry for myself, looking at these statements gives me the little booster dose I need to ‘simply’ get through the day.
I’ve been promised that it gets easier once they get on that yellow school bus. Well, at least in being able to get something done and being able to have a conversation without always describing what color something is or getting a tantrum punch. 😉 There will be new challenges, and I know someday I will forget the day to day hardness and wish for the littleness. Hang in there with me.