I have a 4-year-old, 5-year-old and a 7-year old. Life is as noisy, busy and full as you would expect. But it is also less harried, less taxing and less chaotic than the previous chapter.
The early years of motherhood are turbulent. Virtually just yesterday I was deep in the baby-toddler trenches, living in a permanent state of exhaustion and chaos. Having three children under the age of three was, aside from utter craziness, in a word – intense. Midnight feeds, nappy-changing and sleepless nights, along with the mind-numbing tedium of Groundhog Day made early motherhood grueling.
But slowly things began to change and our family rhythm switched gears. Initially it was quite subtle, and I almost didn’t notice it until I realised I was breathing, and moving at a slower pace. More significantly, I found myself laughing more and enjoying motherhood. As I ponder this rather seismic shift, I wonder if I am nudging closer to the golden years of parenting; the fabled “sweet spot.”
Here are nine signs I might be on the cusp of the sweet spot:
1. Then: The frenetic intensity of motherhood was all-consuming. I was drained and depleted, feeding on caffeine and surviving on wine. “Me time” involved fleeing the house in desperation when my husband got home to go and do the grocery shopping. Alone.
Now: Motherhood consumes a lot of my time, but it does not define me. Instead of feeling like I have lost my identity, I feel like I have expanded it. I wear my battle scars from the early years with pride, along with my crinkly kangaroo pouch – a souvenir from three pregnancies!
2. Then: Exercise was “incidental” consisting of the following repetitions: Pacing up and down the hallway in a frantic attempt to “coax” the baby to sleep, squeezing in squats whilst going to the loo with baby balancing in Baby Bjorn, and wrestling with flailing toddler arms multiple times a day. In my mind, the latter qualifies as “resistance” training!
Now: Exercise is a part of my daily routine and is the real deal. Given I sleep at night (more on sleep to follow) I am often up before the kids wake up to go for a morning run. Weekly yoga classes help to reclaim flexibility and balance, and my core, which had been previously obliterated, is showing signs of a new life.
3. Then: Sleep. Pardon?? I don’t think I “slept” properly for the first five years of my parenting tenure. Nights involved 90-minute stretches of sleep broken by night feeds, infomercials, bed-wetting, night terrors and babies who couldn’t work out their night from day and liked to party at 3.00am!
Now: The kids go to bed. And they (mostly) stay in bed. I got to bed and I (mostly) stay there the entire night. I don’t need eight hours, but give me six in a row and I have about as much enthusiasm for the day ahead as Kim Kardashian has for posting selfies.
4. Then: Days followed a predictable pattern, the “sleep-feed-play” cycle: Feeding marathons, multiple trips to the park, floor time, tea parties, seven cups of unfinished tea, wine o’ clock, (essential for easing the pain of whine o’clock, appropriately known as arsenic hour) and wiggles on permanent loop in my head. Oh, and those crazy characters from The Night Garden who seemed to have a hypnotic effect over my children, like digital Valium.
Now: No more pinkyponk juice and, thankfully, no more igglepiggle. Who cares about his lost blanket? I never found the “oh dear, somebody’s not in bed” part amusing. In our house, he has been put to bed. Never to be woken again! The park? On weekends if the kids are lucky. Floor time? Forget it. I am too old for that shit.
5. Then: Space, spontaneity, sleep and sex were all ELUSIVE. When I was in the trenches I couldn’t even manage a trip to the loo without a chaperone and running commentary. And in the absence of sleep I was too exhausted for sex!
Now: Most of above have returned, albeit in a dimmed down form. I now manage to go the loo alone, 50% of the time, occasionally we do something spontaneous, and occasionally I choose sex over sleep!
6. Then: My ability to construct a sentence was severely impaired. I started to converse in monosyllabic expressions – Bird! Car! More! And adding y to the end of words like doggy, narny, ducky. And sometimes I found myself doing this this even when the kids were not around!
Now: Conversations are a satisfying and democratic two-way exchange. The kids ask some intelligent questions and if I am out of my depth (which I often am) I just tell them to ‘Google’ it.
7. Then: Routines ruled our lives and killed my social life. Day sleeps mattered, dinner could not be delayed by a minute, and we followed the “Bath, Books, Bed routine” with military precision.
Now: We are no longer living under house arrest! Day sleeps are thing of the past, we go to cafes, mix up meals, have it early, have it late, and sometimes we even go OUT for dinner. Recently we got home at 11.00pm! And I even managed to have a few drinks without it requiring more time to recover than major surgery!
8. Then: On the menu: Farex, breast milk and pureed mush. I sometimes prepared nutritious meals for the kids only to have them: a.) Refuse, b.) Gag, c.) Throw, or d.) Regard it as though a fatal poisoning is about to take place.
Now: Not a puree in sight! My ice cube trays have been reclaimed, rightfully, for ice – for my G&T’s. I now prepare meals (occasionally with flavour) and they: a.) Eat it without objection, b.) Reject it and go hungry, c.) Eat it and enjoy doing so) or d.) Ask for seconds!
9. Then: Poo dominates your existence. You think about it, talk about it, inspect it, wipe it and spend a large part of your day dealing with it.
Now: They wipe their own bottoms. Nothing further.
Raising three human beings is still the most challenging thing I do, but the turbulence has settled. There is no app to freeze time so I am grabbing hold of the sweet moments with a firm grip. As I know that this, too, shall pass.
What parenting stage are you currently in? Are you in the sleep-deprived-nappy-daze stage? Or perhaps you’re in the thick of the turbulence-charged toddler phase? Can you see the sweet spot on the horizon? Or are you currently living it? I’d love to hear from you!
*This post first appeared on news.com.au