I am exhausted. I’m always exhausted. I don’t know if I really even sleep anymore. From the moment the first kid calls me in the morning to the moment the last kid stops calling for me at night, I’m working. And I get up a handful of times throughout the night when the kids call for me then, too.
As far as I know, this is a normal lifestyle for parents. We are justifiably exhausted and probably need to cash in on a few thousand years of vacation days that we don’t have time to use.
I’m sitting here taking time to reflect on how hard I work (which is turning into a challenge because I don’t really have the time to sit and reflect with Baby Moe crawling up on my lap every 30 seconds). A moment to myself is never guaranteed, not even when I go to the bathroom. (I pooped while nursing the other day because both of those things were incredibly urgent at the same time.) Sometimes I feel like I cannot get a minute to brush my teeth or to feed myself. And when I do find a spare minute, I end up cleaning the toilet or chopping some vegetables to get ahead on the next meal. When I collapse into bed at the end of the day, I congratulate myself for working so hard — and prepare myself for everything again tomorrow.
Tonight, for example, it took two full hours of constant coaxing, reminding, hand-holding, snuggling, and consoling to put our big kids to bed. I normally give them each a final kiss on the forehead and then bounce off to the next chore but tonight, either from pure disbelief that they were finally asleep or from pure exhausted immobility, I lingered for a moment. I paused in the little space between their rooms where I can see them both sleeping at the same time and I stared at them. I breathed them in. And I wondered what their brains were doing at that exact moment.
Then a new thought bubbled up in my own brain: I work hard… and when I really stop to think about it, my kids work much harder than I do.
I have 33 years of experience being a human on this planet, and the three kids average only four years each. My subconscious manages my balance, my speech, my fine and gross motor skills, and the bulk of my interactions and relationships with friends and family.
Baby Moe practices how to walk, communicate, and make her fingers move stuff… every waking moment of her day. Plum navigates her complex emotions, engages in a dozen relationships, and tries to keep herself from falling over… all day, every day. James is working on being responsible for his body, his language, and his actions. He goes to school and abides by completely different social rules than at home. He is constantly facing the challenge of making sense of this world and the people in it. These kids word hard — really hard — all… day… long.
Perhaps I am cultivating a new compassion for them tonight. I hope so; they absolutely deserve it. I am also feeling a pride in them and empathy for them welling up inside of me. I want to be there for them, to really be present, to see them, to watch them, and to support them as they work so incredibly hard.
I want to give them the comfort and encouragement they need to keep working hard again tomorrow, and then the next day, and the next day after that, until forever.
I could end this story here. But there is another layer of this thought — this new thought bubbling in my mind and spirit — that I want to acknowledge: this growing empathy towards my children is, as paradoxical as this sounds, increasing the empathy I have towards myself. I am seeing me in a new, refreshing light. Since I also work hard (from sunup to sundown and every moment in between), I see the need to take really good care of myself too. Right now, in my particular circumstances at this moment, that means sneaking in a five-minute shower instead of washing the dishes; it means breathing deeply into my shoulders, where I hold my worries and fears, and releasing those concerns from my todo list; it means sitting down with Pete and letting his life fill me up; it means asking for support when I need to go for a walk, meditate, or go to the grocery store without the kids.
Once again, I could end this story here, but there is yet one more layer to this magical world of empathy. Not only am I better able to support all of my kids when I take care of myself, but then they get to learn by example how vital it is to take care of themselves. They get to hear me communicating my weariness and they get to see me rejuvenating. They work so hard, much harder than I do, and they are just at the beginning of a lifetime of hard work.
Now is the time for them to be honored for their work so that we can all share in the responsibility of taking care of ourselves and each other.
The end. That’s all of the layers. Maybe you have more to add — and I want you to tell us about them — but for me, tonight, I am done uncovering layers and I’m going to take care of myself now by sleeping instead of making my grocery list.