Ever wondered why some parents, especially those with a gaggle of kids, seem less stressed than you with your one, even though their hair is always messy and they have stains all over their clothes (the parents and the kids)? It may have to do with our culture’s current obsession with waiting hand-and-foot on our little ones and how it affects our stress levels.
A “good” mother should wake her child promptly as the sun crests the hills and the bluebirds begin to sing. She should go through the morning hygiene routine and provide a nourishing breakfast. She should attentively enrich her child’s playtime with educational videos, classical music, and foreign language exercises. Because, to be a “good” parent, the child must be polite, patient, and reading Chekov – in Russian – by age two. Right?
That’s what it seems like our current culture is saying, and if you do that, that’s fine. There’s absolutely no judgement here. It is possible. But, it’s becoming more of a standard expectation than it once was and it isn’t actually so easily attainable. Aside from careers and relationships and the other day-to-day stresses, parenting is a category all on its own. Let me break it down.
One kid isn’t so hard, though if she’s your only, or your first, you may not see it. There’s a tendency to hover over the first one and feel horrible for not becoming your child’s shadow. That’s your first kid. You want to give her every opportunity and tune in to her every need, to reassure and encourage her every step of the way. A good parent should do this to give her her best chance in life. I know. I did that with my first.
But, it’s exhausting. When she’s little, it’s not so bad. She naps a lot and you get into a rhythm. You can estimate what can be done while she sleeps: dishes, a load of laundry, a meal cooked. As she gets older, she naps less. She requires your attention more and you get less done. Perhaps you learn to include her in chores. She can dry dishes while you wash them. She can help you unload the dryer and reload the washing machine. She can sweep alongside you with a broom that’s just her size.
(Or run to the store for milk. Just kidding. We only drink whiskey in this house.)
You’ve got this.
Now, let’s introduce another child. If you’re lucky, baby number two will be exactly the same as baby number one (I wasn’t that lucky), and your daughter will love him and be perfectly content to go about her business, not bothering the baby unless you’re all playing together. She won’t wake him up from naps by being too loud or because she wanted to play with him. She won’t be jealous and act out in destructive ways. You’ll be able to go about your routines in the same ways without turning into the psychopathic monster mother that lives next door with four children. You know the one. You can hear her screaming through the walls and her kids are always running half-naked in the yard unsupervised (slowly raises hand).
In reality, though, even if you’re lucky you won’t be THAT lucky. The new baby will nap a lot, but your daughter won’t. There will be extra laundry, but no extra time to do it all in since you must pay attention to your daughter and not do chores while the baby is sleeping. When the baby is awake, your daughter will want you to play with her, but you’ll have to take time out to change diapers and do feedings. The baby will go through growth spurts and sleep longer than you anticipated, which will mess up your entire schedule. And, even if your daughter sleeps through the night, the baby likely won’t, but there won’t be a chance for you to make up sleep, because your sweet daughter will rise with the sun (as you’ve taught her to do), and so must you.
You could stop at two. Maybe you decide two is enough and you’re lucky enough to not get any surprises (we weren’t). Two is enough stress; you’re already outnumbered two-to-one (And, let’s face it, more kids means more of that mess from the previous paragraph.). As they grow and go through different phases, their demands on your time will change. Maybe with just two you could still reach that standard of parenting everyone seems desperate to achieve nowadays.
But, I’m going to suggest something crazy to you: you don’t need to watch your child every second of every day. Children need alone time. They NEED time to use their imaginations and figure things out for themselves without you there. And, yes, they may get hurt playing by themselves. It’s a gamble. Society would have you believe that keeping them in your sight at all times not only helps them grow up successfully, but protects them from bad things happening. If you could just be there all the time, you could stop anything bad from ever touching them. This simply isn’t true, and it’s not healthy, for them or you.
Children learn problem-solving skills and develop self-confidence by doing things on their own. You shadowing your child’s every movement isn’t as helpful as you think. You won’t be there forever to hold her hand in life, so let it go sometimes.
Let her do something by herself.
Let all your children play by themselves sometimes.
They’ll be more confident for it. And you will be healthier for it. People forget that parents are people, and people need time to themselves to de-stress, to have thoughts to themselves, to have conversations with other adults. It’s ok for you to back off some. And, if you don’t believe me that everything will be just fine in doing that, have more than two kids. You won’t have a choice, because if you think you’re spread thin between two of them, trying to cater to more than two 100 % of the time is literally impossible. The more you have, the more you’ll see just how happy and adjusted they can be without your constant attention. Also, cut the mom next door some slack; she’s doing a great job and her kids are just fine. I promise. 😉
**If it wasn’t clear, all my jabs at those non-hovering mothers/mothers of multiples were completely in jest. I am that mother, through-and-through and proud to be. My kids, though sometimes a bit unkempt, are just fine (as am I). And to the mothers who somehow achieve that seemingly impossible standard that everyone is striving for, you go! That’s so impressive it’s dizzying (please start a blog and tell me your secrets). 😊