This last couple of weeks, I’ve been parenting in survival mode. My boys (7 months, and 2.5 years) are being super high maintenance at the minute, I’m getting barely any sleep, and the demands on me have been non stop all day long. They regularly have needs at the same time, and I still only have one pair of hands. Usually I’d finally get an hour or so to die in front of the TV after their bedtime, but I’ve not even had that. Some nights I’ve not even managed to eat dinner.
It goes without saying that this has taken its toll. I’m exhausted. Physically and mentally drained. I’m running on fumes. Parenting in survival mode. That joke “I kept the kids alive today”, yeah that’s a real thing.
(I really wanted to blog last week for Maternal Mental Health Week but I couldn’t because my mental health has been taking such a battering!!)
Survival mode isn’t bad for a day here and there. It can be quite nice to say “sod this”, ignore all the chores, dress like a slob and relax all the rules. But a couple of days on the trot starts to have a negative effect. Weeks of it is just damaging.
Being in survival mode for that long makes me feel trapped, suffocated, and enslaved. I’ve just wanted to escape and run away. I’ve wanted to be selfish and not care about anything or anyone other than myself. I’ve resented my children for depending on me 24/7. I’ve been angry, upset and desperate. I’ve cried a lot and wanted to cry a whole lot more. I’ve lost myself, withdrawn from the world and become a prisoner in my own home. It leaves me feeling like a failure of a mother and like I’m letting my boys down by not being present, happy and fun.
As I’m on child no 2, I know from experience that “this too shall pass”. Unfortunately that does pretty much fuck all to help me at the time…it helps me to not give up entirely, it gives me hope and a light at the end of the tunnel to focus on and get me through. But it doesn’t make it any better, any more manageable, in the moment of despair. It doesn’t stop the demands, responsibilities and challenges that have driven me to this point. Children do not have an off switch, ever. Even when they’re asleep, you’re on call.
So it’s a good job that therapy has helped me to say what I mean, to be honest. Because I need support, and I won’t get that if no one knows I need it. Whoever said it takes two to make a baby but a village to raise one WAS NOT KIDDING.
I’ve not quite reached out and directly asked for the help as I would have liked, because it feels like my burden to carry, and if I don’t want to carry it, why the help would anyone else want to do it? (Even though my exact advice to anyone in my situation would be to ask for help… I’ll get there!) But I have at least been honest in general conversation. Honest that I’m struggling to manage this particular phase on my own, wanting to be there for my boys and wanting to run a mile at the same time.
Speaking honestly has resulted in that help being offered, and I’m ridiculously grateful. Happy tears kinda grateful. My boys have been loved, fed and put to bed, my home has been hoovered, dusted and scrubbed top to bottom, clothes washed, the ironing pile demolished, dinner cooked. Daddy and I got out of the house for a few precious hours, and today I got to nap.
Parenting is hard. I thought I knew that before having children, but turns out I had no idea. I don’t think you really can grasp the impact until you do it yourself. I want to go back and slap my younger self for every time I judged a parent or had a “that’s not how I’ll do it” thought. Moron. It’s just not as simple as that. My boys are healthy, well behaved for their age, intelligent and just quite lovely, and yet still, here I am, struggling. It’s not because I have a pair of terrors on my hands because I haven’t parented them right, it’s because they need a million and one things from me and it is impossible for me to stay sane under that sort of strain for this long, on little sleep, without help and a break. I am a person too, with wants and needs of my own. Being a parent does not mean, or rather should not mean, signing your life away to your children. I want to enjoy my babies as part of my life, not as a replacement for it altogether.
Now that I am a parent, I find the biggest difficulty is knowing there is no end. I don’t care if you’ve looked after your nephew for a solid week and bossed it, it’s different when you know there’s an expiry date on that responsibility. Parents don’t have that luxury. There is no ‘real’ break. We have to make many personal sacrifices every day, big and small, to do a good job. You may be in the camp that thinks “it was your choice to have them”, or “should have been more careful”, I hear you, but it just doesn’t work like that. You don’t know what you can and can’t handle until you do it, and kids are a permanent fixture, no exchanges or refunds people.
Mental health of any kind is important, especially when you’re responsible for more than just yourself. We have to keep talking about mental health, to beat the stigma, so we can all get the love and care we need.