They’re exhausted. Trust me on this one.

My daughters only had two and a half days of school last week, which meant I had to cram all of my work into the remaining two and a half days. On Monday morning I kissed my husband and wished him a good work trip to Florida, dropped my daughters off at school, and gave myself a little pep talk about how super productive I was going to be all day.

If you’re a parent, you know how this story ends–with a call from the school nurse (aka My Work Husband) and a wicked ear infection for my older girl. Both of my daughters get ear infections more frequently than most people stub their toes, so I’d been to this particular rodeo before. Or so I thought.

What I assumed would be a 24-hour issue spiraled into nearly a week of continued ear pain, challenging side effects, doctor’s appointments, a plan for a surgical procedure in a couple of weeks, and then, to drop a cherry right on top of our little crap sundae, a new infection in her thumb (likely the result of a cat scratch). We ended up at the doctor’s office three times in six days, and by the end of the week, my little girl was on two different antibiotics, and I was on the edge of losing my mind.

Instead, I ended up in tears. We had just gotten back from urgent care where the doctor had dropped the phrase “necrotizing fasciitis” (aka flesh-eating disease) as casually as if he was talking about a hangnail (WTF?). I managed to hold it together in his office, but once we were home and my little girl was soaking her sore thumb while playing Connect Four with her sister, I went upstairs, plopped myself on the bed, and started crying.

I cried hard. I sobbed. All of the tension and fear and stress and anxiety from the past week flooded out of me. I was frazzled, exhausted, and freaking out.

I share all of this not because I need to vent (whatever, I totally need to vent), but because I want to remind you that parenting is hard. It’s really f*cking hard. It’s hard for all of us.

Let’s think about this. I have a supportive husband, a safe home to live in, a functioning car to drive to appointments, health insurance, access to quality health care, and a flexible work schedule, and I still felt overwhelmed and stressed out by everything that happened. Many, many folks out there aren’t so fortunate, and for them, well, parenting is even harder. Way, way harder.

I talk about this with my clients all the time, and they smile and nod and give me the old “Yeah, yeah, I know, can we please get back to the details of my son’s latest meltdown and what, exactly, I’m supposed to do about it?” 

But they don’t really know. Or if they do know, they’re not taking it seriously. And if they are taking it seriously, they’re not giving themselves permission to do what people do when they’re dealing with really hard sh*t.

Let’s pretend, for example, that someone told you that you had to run a marathon every single day for the next 18 years. Sometimes you would be well-rested and well fed, and the wind would be at your back, and you would feel strong and fast. Other days, though, you’d be exhausted and cranky and running in the rain and you’d end up twisting your ankle halfway through the race. Maybe you’d get a break from the marathon every once in awhile, perhaps on your 10th wedding anniversary or when the marathon finally gets old enough to go on it’s first slumber party, but other than that, you’re running every damn day.

Would you expect yourself to be able to run a perfect race, and get faster every day? Of course not, because that would be insane. You’d know that running a marathon every day is unbelievably difficult, so hopefully you’d do the best you can, laugh off what you can’t, have a little ugly cry in the bedroom when you need to, and do your best to take care of yourself in the midst of all of it.

This is a dramatically different approach to parenting than many of us have. We expect ourselves to be able to run that marathon over and over again, each day as fast and as well as the day before. We lose sight of how damn hard it is, and we beat ourselves up each time we trip or fall. We act as if it’s no big deal to strap on our shoes and hit the pavement over and over again.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to send you off into yet another pity party (although sometimes these things happen, in which case I recommend your couch, your remote control, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked). Rather, I just want you to know that it’s ok if it’s hard. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong; it’s just the nature of that short, whiny, unpredictable beast you happen to live with. It will get better; meanwhile, try to remember the things people do when they’re in the middle of a challenging situation:

  • They cut themselves some slack. Perfection isn’t an option when it comes to parenting, and fortunately, your kids don’t need perfect. So have a little compassion for yourself when it all falls apart, because it will, and that’s ok. You’re not alone, and you’re not a bad parent. You’re just doing something really, really hard.
  • They get support. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this one is non-negotiable. Call your friends, make an appointment with a therapist, check out a parenting support group, or let your in-laws take the kids for the weekend. No one runs a marathon alone.
  • They give themselves a little extra TLC. Runners train and stretch and sleep at night and carbo-load before the big game. Now, I’m not suggesting that you should eat a giant plate of pasta every night, but it is ok if you need to plunk the kids in front of the TV on a weekend morning so you can get a little more sleep when you need it.

And don’t forget, you’re allowed to vent about it every once in awhile, too–especially if you have your own blog. 🙂

Got a parenting question for the blog? Email me at carlaATcarlanaumburgDOTcom.

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