As I type this, six little boys are actively tearing my house apart. There are pizza crusts and empty Capri Suns in almost every single room, a Twister board is strewn over the top of my couch and a fully operational science kit is covering the living room floor while an active volcano is constructed on the back deck.
There is screaming and yelling and laughing and fighting and racing and battling and lots and lots of little boy smell filling my house from top to bottom.
It’s a sensory overload, to put it mildly.
As I sit here during a moment of unexpected peace, my mind wanders back to a time long, long ago (okay, not that long ago) when I was parenting one kid. Life was so much quieter. So much more structured, more methodical, more not-dialed-up-to-a-10 all the time. But for a lot of reasons it was also so much harder. As a new mom to one child, you experience so many emotions; even ones that are not yet appropriately expressible via emoji. Joy, of course, but you’re also tired and anxious and secretly farty, not-so-secretly-farty and despite the fact that you’ve created another human being that is undoubtedly attached to you for most of the day, you’re also incredibly lonely.
I remember trying to fill the time until my husband got home from work in ten minute increments, “Okay, we can look in the mirror until 4:17 and then we’ll walk down to get the mail. That’ll get us to about 4:30. When we get back, we can read books until 4:45 and then preheat the oven and get all the ingredients out for supper. At 5, I can put him in his swing and start cooking dinner.”
It wasn’t exactly the most stimulating time in my life.
And on the other side of the coin, I was constantly on high alert. Perseverating on every detail of my son’s life to an unhealthy degree, completely certain that I held the keys to his language development and sleep patterns and growth curve and gross motor milestones and ear infections in the palms of my hands. On any given day with my son, I would vacillate between extreme boredom and sheer panic at least ten times. It was super fun and relaxing. I was enjoying every minute of it.
I remember during those days, seeing other moms at the grocery store or church, with a full brood of four or five kids in tow and thinking, “If I feel like this with one, how am I ever going to survive with more?” How would I be able to pour myself into perfecting another kid?
Around the time I was feeling completely overwhelmed by the idea of creating another human life I remember reading a blog post written by a mom of 9, who shared that some of her hardest days were around the time when she just had one baby to look after. About the fear, the loneliness that came with being just one mother and one child. I remember thinking that she was just one of those ultra casual moms that was made for having a ton of kids and I wouldn’t feel that same kind of relief as our family grew.
But I was wrong.
Sure we only have two right now (but #3 is on the way!) but the difference is immeasurable. Yes, there are still moments of utter panic, but they are soothed by far more moments of laughter, happiness and a chaos so indescribable that there is no way to experience any type of emotion during it. I have begun to understand that I cannot perfect my children. I am not in charge of their reading development and eating patterns and baseball skills and fine motor milestones and strep throats. And that sucks. But it’s also totally freed me up to spend more time enjoying my kids playing and less time taking temperatures and worrying about reading groups at school.
So back to my original point. To the moms out there who feel like they’re drowning in the responsibility of parenting one kid, please know that you’ve got the hardest job there is. You are mother, doctor, entertainer, baker, schedule keeper, laundry do-er, screen time monitor, singer, reader, silly face maker, rocker – you are everything. And you are exhausted. There is no harder parenting job than the one you have right now.
These days when I walk through the grocery store, my heart does not go out to the mom with four kids climbing on her (I mean, of course it does. Her job is hard too. SOLIDARITY SISTERS!) It goes out to the mom with a single toddler in her cart, pointing out objects as they walk down the aisles, picking up rogue items knocked off shelves by tiny hands and putting grapes in her own mouth to both clean and bite in half, in order to provide a safe and healthy snack for her little one as they shop.
Your work can be difficult and boring and lonely, but it is also heart wrenchingly beautiful. You’re doing something incredible and one day, when your house is covered in squashed juice boxes and dirt clods from shoes not removed at the front door, you will sit in a living room chair while the insanity swirls around you and smile, because you are no longer wishing away the day in 10 minute increments. You are experiencing life as it happens around you and finding all the joy that comes with it.
*Of course friends, please don’t hear my saying that you should have another kid if that’s not what your family is looking for, but please do hear me saying that in my experience, number of children is not correlated to stress or parenting difficulty level. Parenting one child was incredibly hard, but it does not get exponentially harder with each child. For my family, the opposite has been true.