It’s 10.15am. Here is a somewhat abridged list of everything my son has demanded of me since 5am:
- 8 toilet trips (including one at 5am, the joy, and twice more while I was in the bath)
- 4 clean pairs of pants (not from accidents just because they were the wrong colour, labels were itching etc)
- Changing from shorts to trousers and back again (because it started raining. And then stopped raining. He was indoors)
- Three types of cereal (and then a fresh bowl because he decided he didn’t want one of them)
- Multiple channel changes
- A desire to jump down the stairs on his bouncy donkey (and then a meltdown when I said no as would lead to certain injury)
- Getting paints out
- Getting Play Doh out
- Countless snacks and drinks
More than any other challenge of motherhood – sleeplessness, tantrums, fussy eating, bad behaviour etc. – it is the constant demands on your time, energy and patience that I really struggle with during this toddler-into-preschooler phase.
The modern world is one that never shuts down. Supermarkets are open around the clock, even on Bank Holidays. Remote working means we’re only ever one email away from our bosses. And all manner of entertainment is available to us at the touch of a button or a click of a mouse. If I want to binge-watch Scandal at 3am I have that luxury with TV-on-demand. But what about being a mummy-on-demand? If you don’t want your boss to contact you you have the choice to turn off your work phone, and even supermarkets shut on Christmas Day, but being at your child’s beck and call is something we never get a rest from.
The worst part is there is nothing you can or indeed should do about it, from what I can see. Caterpillar isn’t being “naughty” when he fusses about switching his shoes or adds yet another item to the bedtime ritual. He is just being a three-year-old – they simply have an awful lot of needs, not just physical but the need for guidance and emotional reassurance too. This is normal behaviour and not something to be punished or discouraged (although if anyone does have any ideas please let me know!). And that’s what’s so tricky; accepting that the moment you sit down with a cup of tea is the moment your child is going to need something else from you can be very hard. I don’t mind admitting that I often find the sheer relentlessness very difficult to cope with emotionally.
The really key realisation is that even when you do have a break and are away from your children, maybe you’re at work or you’re have a well-earned night out, you are never really free as your mummy-brain never switches off. From the moment your child is born you can never be selfish or alone in your thoughts again. You will now always be thinking of your child, wondering how they’re getting on, and every decision you make – big or small – will involve consideration of them. This adjustment was something my anxious brain really fixated on when I was unwell with PND. The sheer enormity that my child would now dominate my thoughts and decisions for the next 20 years, or for life to some extent, frightened me in quite an inexplicable way.
Now that I’m well it’s no longer scary but the constant demands on your body, emotions & mind can still be exhausting and overwhelming. The contradiction is that running alongside this relentless exhaustion is the knowledge that their childhood is so fleeting and that as they grow their need for you will reduce. The fact that my son will not always be waking me in the night for cuddles or demanding snacks the moment I put my feet up is both a simultaneous sadness and relief. It’s this conflict that makes parenting such a unique experience, and one that I’m ultimately so grateful for – demands and all.