Friday, August 19, 2016

Parenting Through the First-Three-Years Fog

  This year I have felt much more like myself, by which I mean more like the person I remember being before I became a mother. Don't get me wrong, I love being a mom and I love my kids. I have learned, grown and changed (hopefully for the better) so much because they are part of my life. I would not go back and change things if I had that option. I am just saying it felt like I got lost a little when I was introduced to motherhood.

  I don't think I'm the only one who feels that my whole life changed when I became a mother. I entered into a new culture of being entrusted with another's complete well-being. Of learning everything I could about another human being and managing their time, creating eating, sleeping, playing, and bathing schedules. Scheduling doctor's appointments and keeping track of just about everything another person did so that I would be able to answer all of the doctor's questions. And, of course, doing all of this on an erratic and inadequate sleep schedule. Not to mention simultaneously dealing with my own physical, emotional and mental recovery.

And then doing all of that again less than three years later while also managing a very mobile, opinionated, mostly toilet trained, desirous of all of your attention individual.

Again, I love my kids. I know that most everyone has very similar experiences in parenting, but I am giving myself permission to admit that it is at times challenging and exhausting and, every so often, I live in survival mode.

  But now my kids are six and three. My youngest is toilet trained, can get mostly dressed on his own, feeds himself and just started at preschool three mornings per week, allowing me some precious me/alone time. And, so far, it has been so refreshing and restorative (because I haven't allowed myself to spend all of my time doing chores or running errands).

  I was talking with a friend a few weeks ago whose youngest is still months away from her first birthday. I was saying how I feel so much more like me these days and it is because I am out of the fog that is parenting the first three years of a child's life. Those years are so demanding of parents. The kids need you to feed and change them. Sometimes they won't allow anyone else to feed them. They can be very clingy so you spend most of your day feeding and holding them. If/when they finally go to sleep for the night you are DONE with being needed or touched. You just want to get away to your own little bubble to rest and think.

  You are often worried about whether they are eating enough, sleeping enough, going to choke on the banana, having enough stimulation/variety in their diets/tummy time/books read to them/wet or dirty diapers. You are constantly monitoring their moods, activities, body temperature. They consume all of your brain and most of your time. No wonder I didn't feel like my former self. Not only was I physically different, but my brain had received an influx of new information that needed to be processed constantly.

  Eventually they begin to feed themselves (which can turn into a battle because you're concerned they'll starve themselves or be nutritionally deficient), learn to crawl and walk on their own (which means baby-proofing the house, still losing a few items that you loved, and kissing a lot more ouchies), and start saying words (and you will regret teaching them "mommy" when they get to be two and say it every three seconds). You love seeing all of the new milestones and the beginnings of independence. But they still need you to help them change their clothes, teach them to be polite and enforce the house rules, brush their teeth, and work around their nap schedule (I love naptime!). They may still want to be carried everywhere and cling to you when in an unfamiliar environment. You still have to get past the looming hurdle that is toilet training.

  Usually sometime between three and four, your precious child is reasonably independent. They have few toilet accidents. They feed themselves and usually eat at least one vegetable and meat to supplement their snacking preference. They can get mostly or completely dressed for the day. They can play on their own a bit. They are (hopefully) still napping or having some quiet room time each day for your sanity break. They can tell you when they are hurt, hungry, sad or mad. They are more adventurous and not as reluctant to be separated from you (my experience, at least).

  There are still challenges like them having their own opinions and not always wanting to obey. Or picking fights with their siblings. They can't yet read or write on their own but I don't mind cuddling and reading books now that I am not always being touched by someone.

  Now that my children are older, I am rediscovering my passions and taking time to refresh myself. I have realized just how important self-care is and have time to do it. It is not easy when you're in the younger years and fear what will happen if you take a shower while the little ones are awake and unsupervised. If you're sleep deprived because your baby or toddler doesn't sleep through the night, of course you're going to be more run down and space out when you get a spare minute.

  Parenting kids through their first three years is tough (in my experience). It takes a lot out of you. But, take heart, it's just a season. You will once again have time for things that fill you up. Your kids will grow and change and you will do the same with them. You may be sad to leave the baby stage, but you have so many others to look forward to - school, activities, kids being old enough to do their own laundry. Give yourself grace. It's okay not to love every minute of every season.

  I am loving my kids' current ages. I am not loving homework time. I don't particularly care for the illnesses that appear when school starts. I love that they play well together. I love watching my six-year-old gain confidence as she learns new abilities like reading, riding a bicycle, dancing and playing the piano. I enjoy the imagination and creativity of my three-year-old. I love his sweetness and hearing him tell me he loves or likes me at least once per day (I know that won't last). I love that my oldest can help the younger one with things when needed. Every parent loves a specific stage in childhood. Right now I feel like this is my sweet spot.

How old are your kids? What age(s) do/did you enjoy the most? Did you also feel like the first three years of a child's life were the most challenging for you and your identity? If not, how did you successfully manage motherhood and self-care during the early years?

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