I'm starting to believe that the early years of parenting are akin to a black hole for your personal free time. That time from the birth of your first child until the the first day of school for your last child. I don't mean that negatively, mostly, but it is a temporary death for your personal free time.
My day starts between 7 and 8:30, when both of my kids wake up and climb into our bed. Typically, one kid will climb into our bed first, but we can usually convince that one to go back to sleep, but when they're both awake, then it's time to be up. They will not go back to sleep, no matter how hard you might try.
We spend an hour or two playing (see: fighting over stupid shit like which chair is "theirs" in the library, who was playing with the legos first, etc) and "watching" Nick Jr or Disney Jr on the Firestick. I try to spend this time checking in on my texts, emails, and social media that I might have missed overnight (I turn my phone off when I go to bed, so I wake up to a ton of crap), then I get ready for the day: wash face, apply very basic makeup, get dressed.
Then it's time to dress the kids. Sometimes they pick out their own things, sometimes they're too busy playing and I have to literally catch them to get them out of their pjs and into day clothes. It's worth noting that I'm breaking up fights and screaming contests throughout this whole process.
We move downstairs for breakfast between 930 and 10, where we get about 20 minutes of peaceful eating before the fighting and loud playing starts up again.
The rest of the morning is spent trying to keep them entertained, without hurting each other, without breaking anything, without screaming (me and/or them) and without losing my mind. Some days that means wandering around the aisles of Target's toy section, or we hit the library, or we go play with MomMom. Some days, we play in the driveway with chalks or bikes. Most days, I'm exhausted and counting the minutes until nap time before we've even had lunch.
Lunch comes between 12 and 2, depending on how much patience I have left. Naps come within 30 minutes of the end of lunch.
Nap time usually lasts for about 2 hours (thank whoever) and then we have a snack before more loud playing around the house until everyone gets kicked out of the kitchen so I can cook dinner. Throughout the cooking process, because we don't have an open concept house, I'm listening to all the screaming, playing and fighting in the living room, waiting for the inevitable crying to determine if it's really serious or not. And listening for the sounds of people jumping on the furniture. More often than not, children get banned from the couches while I'm cooking.
The whole time I'm cooking, I'm fielding questions about snacks, what's for dinner, refilling cups, breaking up fights, putting people in time out, tripping over the ever-present pup, and repeatedly saying "get that toy out of the kitchen."
By the time Mike gets home, usually around dinnertime, sometimes a little afterwards, I'm done. He jumps in and takes over for the remainder of the evening, although that's typically only about an hour. It's the first time I've had a real break all day.
Why am I telling you all this?
I wanted to paint a very clear picture for you: Stay-at-home moms of pre-school aged kiddos have very little alone time. I have a 2 hour window in the middle of the day when my kids are napping. That time is sacred. That's the only time in my 12 hour solo parenting shift where I get to think about my needs and not worry about anyone else's. I desperately need that break time. I can't even imagine how it is for stay-at-home parents who have pre-schoolers that gave up naps. This is the phase in our lives where we, as stay-at-home parents, are servants at the beck and call of the tiny tyrants we created ourselves.
Point of clarification: I love that I'm able to stay home with our kids. I'm beyond grateful that I have a spouse who has a job that enables me to stay home. I have always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom; this is my dream. I just never really thought it would be this challenging and energy sucking.
What is the point of this post?
You're probably expecting some big revelation or tips on surviving this black hole parenting season. To be honest, I don't have any idea. I'm winging it every single day. This post is simply to let you know that you are not alone.
Parenting is HARD. Raising people to be good people is exhausting and never ending. You never really get time off or a break. And you won't know if you've done well until it's too late. Honestly, we're all just winging it. If you are stuck in this black hole parenting season too, know that I'm with you and we will survive. Eventually, our kids will go to school and we'll get some precious free time back.
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Writer and Contributor for the Motherhood Community