For twelve years, I was the only parent in the home. I was married, and another adult lived there. But I was still the only parent. If a child puked, it was me who held that child and cleaned up the mess. It was also me who woke up with a child in the middle of the night. Whenever a child wanted strawberries or grapes, I was the one who washed them and cut them up.
I kissed the boo-boos, read the bedtime stories, prayed the prayers, figured out the logistics of three kids with extracurriculars and homework. Later, I managed the homeschooling, created behavior charts, coordinated playdates, scheduled appointments, and I listened. Every day, I listened, to the minute and profound things three little voices had to share.
I discovered messes on the kitchen table, forts built with the (formerly) clean linens from the closet, urine that didn’t quite find its way to the toilet bowl in the middle of the night, and stashes of empty, pilfered Goldfish wrappers in the top bunk. It was me who purged the house – and our bowels – of pinworms. I also took temperatures and washed hair on unwilling participants.
If I’m honest, a lot of those things made me more than a little upset. I don’t like clutter. Cleaning is something I despise. Pinworms are not my favorite. I like my sleep. After twelve years, I developed more than a little case of burnout, and my kids learned to anticipate my frustration. They did not, however, learn how to stop doing the things that caused it.
Then, after much counsel and exhausting literally every other option, I left an abusive marriage, took the kids, and moved out. Now, thanks to family court, I have twelve nights and four days off each month.
On one level, I can tell you that I very much enjoy sleeping in. Spending time with friends without getting cursed at is a joy. And it generally feels great to feel human again. But as you can probably imagine, I can’t tell you how much this situation has changed my heart toward those “annoying, repetitive, motherhood tasks.”
How Twelve Nights Have Changed My My Heart
- When I cut up strawberries and grapes, I don’t complain anymore. I know that when they’re not with me, there’s no fresh fruit available.
- I’m happy to sponge a feverish forehead with a warm washcloth and scrub puke off a nightshirt. I know that on twelve nights a month, the puke happens alone, with no one to comfort them or offer clean clothes.
- On the nights I just want to read my own book, I know that twelve nights a month, there are no bedtime stories. There is no getting tucked in. Often, they drag themselves from video games to bed and no one even notices.
- I’m even grateful to peel a half-dozen hardboiled eggs in the morning when they come back to me. And they’re grateful to have them because no breakfast was offered before they left. And for the record, I HATE peeling hardboiled eggs.
I miss the tiny, repetitive, motherhood annoyances. The messes on the floor in my room. And the child who used my one clean towel in the bathroom. Or the trash that is full for the third time in a day. Those things hit me differently now.
It’s a privilege to give my children a home where they can exhale, be human, and make mistakes without fear. The importance of those “unimportant” mom tasks has become startlingly obvious. Obvious to both me and to the children. Now those tasks aren’t happening for twelve nights and four days a month. It’s a privilege to do the work of a parent. I am grateful my children live in a home with a parent who cares to do that work. It’s something no one in my household takes for granted anymore.
I don’t believe in feeling guilty for being tired and burnt out. But I also know it changes you when that work isn’t there anymore, whether that happens because of divorce or because kids grow up and go to college.
So carry on, Mama. Carry on. The work we do …it matters. And it won’t be there forever.
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