When I’m chatting with someone who doesn’t have children and I ask how they’ve been, they often say something like, “I’m good! I’ve been busy, but… well, I’m not as busy as you.”
It’s sweet that they’re trying to respect the extra demands that come with children, but the back pedaling isn’t necessary and those of us with kids shouldn’t make them feel like it is.
I’m sure you’ve seen the memes: a picture of Robert Downey Jr. rolling his eyes with the caption, “My face when people without kids say they’re tired,” or the one of Bette Davis laughing uncontrollably with the title, “When people without kids say they’re tired.” I get the joke. I’m tired, too, but I was also tired before I had kids. It was just for different reasons.
What I really lost after becoming a mother wasn’t a dark circle-free face or an open calendar, it was the freedom to choose how I spent my time. This isn’t to say that I was flitting about doing whatever I wanted before kids. I had plenty of obligations, mostly related to work, but I did get to decide how to spend my non-work time. I traveled, socialized, and binge-watched entire seasons of “Dexter.” I still felt busy, and I was definitely stressed and tired, but I only had to worry about myself. If I was tired, it was a “fun-tired.”
Now almost all of my time is devoted to my kids instead of myself. I’m not even the type of person who jam-packs our schedules and there’s still a lot on my plate each day. The school pick ups and drop offs, extracurriculars, birthday parties, extra food preparation, cleaning, and laundry all suck up my time.
On top of that, my mental energy is spread thin keeping track of the entire family. I know everyone’s blood types. I know the last time the kids pooped. I know what they’ve eaten and can quickly assess whether I should insist they eat a piece of fruit before indulging in a cookie. I mentally note where their favorite toys are laying around the house so I can tell them when they ask. I remember to buy and mail greeting cards to our family. I know when we’re low on milk and the other staples that absolutely must be stocked to avoid meltdowns. I’m tuned in to every sniffle, warm forehead, or cough. I coordinate appointments and babysitters and lots of other things that I never had to think about before kids.
Then there’s the constant, underlying sense of worry that children bring. It’s impossible not to be concerned about the wellbeing of people we love in an all consuming way, even if they’re the healthiest, most well-behaved kids. All of this amounts to an emotional strain I didn’t feel before kids.
But those are all rather mundane experiences compared to some of the things my friends without kids have endured, like negotiating divorce, dealing with personal health issues, coordinating health care for sick relatives, mourning the death of a parent, becoming unemployed, working while attending school, or financially supporting family members. These reasons for being busy and tired are just as valid as having kids.
Do they luck out in not having to wash a bunch of baby bottles on top of managing the junky parts of adulthood? Maybe. If you’re going through any of the above in addition to raising a family, then you probably are busier or more stressed than the rest of us (but you still haven’t earned the right to discount the lives of anyone else).
Just as people without kids can’t fully understand what it’s like to be a parent (no niece, nephew, or dog can compare), maybe parents get selective amnesia about our pre-kid lives. We remember the happy hours and the lazy Saturday mornings, and we forget the long hours at work because we didn’t have a good excuse (like kids) to cut out of the office early.
Many of us enter true adulthood when we become parents, but others experience the reality of unyielding responsibility from other situations. I haven’t met an adult yet who’s actually “adulting” and isn’t just a little bit tired. The causes may be different but everyone’s doing the best that they can, and all of us could use a good nap.