I have a special place in my heart for mothers of all littles. Those little tiny humans, though we love them immensely, can be a lot of work, and I’m positive that the work we do as mothers is not meant to be done without lots of help from others. The other week I was reminded just why this is so.
I have four living children, ages 11, 8, 4, and 1. My husband works from home and we homeschool, so most days are spent with us all together, sometimes with each of us doing our own projects and sometimes with us playing or working together. The first week of September, however, my in-laws asked if they could take the three girls for a week, which would leave my husband and I caring for just our 1-year-old son. I knew the girls would have a blast with their grandparents. They would spend time hiking, swimming, biking, doing arts and crafts projects, and more. I knew caring for just my son for a week would have its challenges but no problem, I would manage. In some ways it would be easier, I thought. I won’t need to worry about doing homeschool lessons, and with just my husband and me and a toddler I could make simple, easy meals. Of course I’d be caring for an active toddler, but without the other thing to worry about maybe my week would be somewhat restful! If Hollywood were making a movie about my week, here is where they would cue the foreboding music.
To be honest, toddlers are difficult for me. They are just so active. Still completely dependent on me for everything, they are also energetic, curious, and in to everything. Even though my son is the fourth child, he is the first one to necessitate the purchase of a toilet lock. Gone are the days when a diaper-change was an easy, straightforward task. Each diaper-change now involves me carrying my adorable little boy who has a smile to melt anyone’s heart to the changing table, only to have him morph suddenly into some kind of feral animal fighting for his life. Normally, the other children help with diaper changes at times by distracting him with funny faces and songs, enabling me to change him with relative calm. The week the girls were gone, however, those moments of diaper-changing reprieve were also gone.
Typically I have moments where the toddler is occupied and playing with one or more of his sisters which allows me to fold some laundry, answer a few emails, or tidy the kitchen after lunch. That week, however, it was all me and only me with the toddler all day long. He seemed to be attached to my hip, and rather than getting more things done like I had hoped, I got much less accomplished.
That week I also realized that my older children can be great companions. Normally, we have a lot of fun together. We make or build things, we read, we work, we watch interesting documentaries, and we laugh together at the cute things the little ones say or do. Do I sometimes have to referee arguments between them? Sure. Nag them one too many times about cleaning their room? Yep. On the whole, though, I find them enjoyable. The week without them I realized I was quite lonely. My husband was home, but he was working of course and locked away in our home office, so he wasn’t really able to spend his days being with me.
By the end of week my patience was thin, my loneliness level way too high (despite the fact that Wednesday and Friday I had spent some hours with my best gal friends), and as my husband and I drove to a restaurant to eat (I had informed my husband that I was exhausted and done) I couldn’t hold back my tears. “He needs so much constant attention all day every day!” I cried. “I can’t even get small breaks in! When I went out for coffee, he wanted to run around the coffee shop and kept trying to go where he wasn’t allowed. It was impossible to relax or hold a conversation until he fell asleep. At my other friend’s house he kept trying to get into cupboards with cleaning stuff or play with breakable things. At home all he does is try to eat the cat food repeatedly or else play in the cat litter. It’s just never-ending.”
Caring for a toddler is hard on a normal day, but I realized that caring for one in isolation is pretty much impossible.
So if you struggle, know that you aren’t being a bad mom, a weak mom, or a not-cut-out-for-motherhood mom. When you find your role challenging, you’re being a human mom. Our task is big and important, and as such we need help; we need time off; and we need to have time doing those things that recharge our spirit. So mamas, be gentle with yourself. I know you pour your heart and souls into caring for your wee ones, but in your endeavors, don’t forget to care for yourself and to allow others to care for you too.
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness. – G. K. Chesterton