These aren’t all of them, mind you, but a few things have occurred to me since I had kids. Well – since I had KID, and then with KIDS comes some kind of strange new math whereby 1 kid + 1 kid > 2 kids. I hope they don’t put this on a standardized test. Feel free to add more of your own in the comments; my hope is that this will be both cathartic for me (and perhaps other parents) and instructive for those who don’t yet/won’t ever have kids. I feel like I endlessly need to explain to people that this is how things are, because if they don’t have kids, they don’t necessarily see things from that different perspective. I remember what my perspective was before I had kids. But everything’s changed. That’s not to say that I don’t love my kids (I love them immensely and can’t imagine my life without them). I’m just acknowledging that things in my life have changed, and part of why I feel like I’m always struggling for balance is because it’s not something you get back right away after you have even 1 kiddo. Your entire globe shifts by more than a few degrees, and it continues to shift daily (sometimes hourly).
So, here’s my list of 7 things that are the “new reality” for me, at least, post-kids:
1. You can’t just do/say/buy what you want whenever you want anymore. Your schedule is no longer your own, since you now have to rearrange things around when the egg timer expires on the sitter that you’re scrambling to afford paying or the day care that promises to charge you $3 for every 5 minutes you’re late. Saying whatever you want is also out the window, since there comes a point in every parent’s life when they realize that their small human child has turned into a small human-shaped parrot. Words you said five days ago will pop out of the child’s mouth at random points and you suddenly realize that it’s like carrying little tape recorders around in your car. (“C’mon – move it!” – d’oh!) And, of course, buying is a thing of the past without planning. I used to have what economists term “disposable income” (income above and beyond what you need to pay for your necessities, like food and housing). Once I had kids, my income was disposed of for me in Children’s Orchard and Old Navy, at day care, and in seemingly endless quantities of Pampers.
2. Tired is the new normal. Even when you get a full night of sleep, one fuss seems to drain it all out of you. I have a theory about this: since kids seem to have infinite energy at times, perhaps they get it by systematically draining us of ours? Some of this must have to do with keeping up with someone else’s needs all the time. Of course, when they let you nap (and don’t draw on you with non-washable marker), you should consider those kids definite keepers.
3. Your party circuit WILL have to change. Hey – I like a bouncy place as much as the next person with two bad knees…watching the kids play Lord of the Bouncy always cracks me up something fierce. Kiddo parties (or those organized by parents of small children) typically end up being ones that are the easiest to attend, since they’re typically timed not to start at their children’s bedtime. Becoming friends with your kids’ friends’ parents is a great way to continue to socialize; not only do you get to hang out with people who are typically right near you, but you also have a built-in way to find people who have kids of similar age to bounce ideas off or compare notes with on things like the local school system. This doesn’t mean that I am ready to cast off the shackles of my former party circuit; I miss my friends terribly. It’s just that going to, say, a soccer game or a party that kicks off at the kids’ bedtime means I have to get a sitter ($$$), miss reading bedtime stories and giving goodnight kisses to my kiddos (!!!), or risk having melty kids at an event that they’ll likely not enjoy from being so tired attending.
4. You may have to eat your favorite foods on the sly. Unless you plan to become what my mom used to term “a restaurant” (“I’m not making four separate dinners! Do I look like a restaurant?!”), dinners end up relying heavily on whatever the kids will eat. I was flipping through the grocery store flyer earlier and noticed they had shrimp on sale. Shrimp…I love shrimp. And no one else in the house will eat them. Sigh. Even if dh and I are the only ones who will eat something, we’ll typically try to find a way to seed the dinner with other things that the kids will eat. For example, we know that we promised the kids pizza one night for when we have a sitter coming over. We’ll be having a quick dinner before the sitter arrives, so I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to make something they WON’T eat. Crock pot turkey chili to the rescue!!
5. Embrace what doesn’t complicate your life further. This could also be known as “the crock pot rule”. I love my crock pots because they’ve allowed me not to have to fret about not having sufficient time to prepare healthy, tasty meals in the short time I have between when I get home from work with the kids and when dinner needs to be on the table. We eat family dinner together every night, and we try to eat it around the same time every night so that the kids’ routine won’t get thrown off. (Hungry kids and velociraptors have a LOT in common, including the sharp claws bit.) This isn’t to say that I endorse just dragging out frozen dinners every night, but there are nights when it’s a freezer raid to get stuff to the table and I refuse to apologize for it. Who should I apologize to? Every meal has some protein, some starch, some veggie and some dairy. That type of constant 4-food-group plate requires planning, and between weekly meal plans and the crock pot, we’ve been able to keep ourselves mostly sane about dinners for the last several years.
6. Balance becomes a lot harder to accomplish than ever before. There’s a section of Dr. Seuss’ classic “The Cat in the Hat” where the cat is trying to show how much fun he can be by balancing on a ball and successively holding more things in his hands, on his tail and on his head. Eventually, he tumbles to the ground under the weight of all of it (and hopping on the ball), because it’s just too many things to try to balance at once. I feel like that some days. Working full-time and trying to keep the house in some semblance of order while co-raising two kids sometimes seems like a ride on a hamster wheel redesigned by M.C. Escher. The things I love doing, like yoga, have become a lot harder to do in the context of our schedule and reprioritizing kid stuff higher in order to keep to our routine). I’m not resentful; I’m resigned to it. Things will get easier as the kids get older, just as there was this amazing evolutionary leap forward in my quality of life once the kids were both old enough to be left in the living room to play while I finished preparing dinner. Balance will continue to evolve; I just need to continue not to beat myself up about not doing/being everything I want to do/be all the time.
7. You have to do what works for you. This was basically the motto of the online birth group I joined when I was pregnant with dd. We found this oasis of sane in a whirling dust storm of negativity and “PARENTING: UR DOIN IT WRONG” that seemed to pervade the rest of the boards our group was a part of. We supported each other, gave advice that was open and honest and we didn’t jump down each other’s throats when someone who supports cloth diapering heard that another wanted to use disposables. There’s so much trial-and-error in parenting, especially when they’re young; it’s just impossible to follow a roadmap exactly and have everything work out perfectly. What works for one kiddo may not work for another, and what you loved as a kid may be despised by your own kiddo. Constant adjustment and refining is the order of the day. Feeling guilty, or giving others guilt, just is so counterproductive.
I’m sure I’ve missed some. These are just my highlights. These are the things I’ve come to realize over the last 5 years and 2 months. I don’t miss childless life any more than I miss the single life. I know the aspects of those times in my life will come back later (and I can just bypass reliving the aspects I didn’t like nearly so much). For now, for me, it’s about embracing where I am NOW.