Parents of young children are familiar with exhaustion and short temper, but don’t always make a connection between the two. This is my “Ah-ha!” moment and how we’re turning things around for our family.
It was early evening, hours before bedtime for the kids, and I was fatigued to the point of feeling faint. I sat down for a few minutes of recovery and found myself bickering with Hubby (again) about who would wash the mountain of dishes this time.
Finally fed up with the futility of arguing, I jumped up, shouting:
“FINE! I’ll do them, AGAIN!”
(or, something equally intelligent) and stormed off into the kitchen to face another hour or 2 of washing dishes for the zillionth day in a row.
I was slamming around the kitchen, huffing my way through a hot sink filled with dishes, and grumbling about the thoughtlessness of SOME people who refuse to rinse and reuse their cups when – speak of the devil – Hubby poked his head into the kitchen.
Genuinely confused, he asked,
“Why are you so angry all the time?”
The “Ah-ha!” Moment
As I was about to retort with some scathing remark about the idiocy of buying a dozen more cups that get stacked up for me to wash, I had a moment of shining epiphany.
It wasn’t about the dishes … or laundry … or sticky stuff on the kitchen floor … or any of the other ridiculous reasons we quibbled. I realized that I was angry all the time because:
I was exhausted
ALL. THE. TIME!
At that point, it had been 3 years with little-to-no sleep. We had our kids back-to-back, so it had been 3 years of endless feedings, diaper changes, teething pains, and unexplained wakefulness (for the kids and sometimes me!). The Time of Use billing for hydro (electricity) meant that laundry didn’t get done until after the kids were in bed.
And, no matter what time I had dragged myself to bed, I was the one to get up and deal with the kids if one (or both) woke up. Often, this happened within 20 minutes of be going to bed, even if I tried to go to bed early. It was like my kids had a psychic alarm that went off when my head hit the pillow. Sometimes, it meant I’d only been in bed about 38 seconds. Literally.
All of this resulted in me getting a maximum of 4 – 5 hours of sleep (usually more like 1.5 – 2 hours). Then, each morning, I hit the floor running. I had to somehow find the energy to keep up with the kids, make meals, make an attempt at house-keeping, tackle the “work” aspect of “Work-At-Home Mommy”, and still be interested in intimacy.
The only way I could physically do it day after day was to use the adrenaline produced by being angry.
I was using anger as a survival method to make it through each day.
I explained my revelation to my husband and I saw understanding and sympathy in his eyes. He gave me a hug and said, “You can’t keep doing that. You’re damaging your body. You’re unhappy. You upset the kids when you yell and it’s hurting our relationship.” I started to cry. I didn’t know how else to get through the day.
The next morning, Hubby quietly got up with the kids and let me get an extra hour or two of sleep. He did the chores and activities that I usually do (without being asked or coached) for a few days while still trying to maintain the “work” aspect of “Work-At-Home Daddy”.
Meanwhile, I got to sample his usually Daddy Day … It was awesome!
My Days Got 20% Cooler
There was cuddles and cartoons. Sitting on the floor and policing – er – participating in play time. Flashcards, counting, colour matching, somersaults, horsie rides …
Oh, and I got a bunch of writing done while the kids played between my knees at the desk.
After a few days, I was starting to feel rested and contented. Hubby, however began looking haggard and twitchy. By the end of the second day, I heard him muttering complaints I had on auto-repeat when trying to work in the kitchen:
It’s too crowded in here! Why is it so dark?! Who make s a kitchen without a window!?! There are too many dishes! Oh, GOD! Not another load of laundry! I don’t want to cook another meal in here!
Day 3, while I was editing and the kids were playing quietly on the edge of my desk, I heard a strangled noise from the kitchen. Hubby came running out, wild-eyed and panicked like a lion was chasing him.
“I feel claustrophobic!” he panted.
This was usually the moment that he would respond to my comment about feeling claustrophobic with some platitude that would normally tick me off. I, however, gave him a moment to collect himself and asked,
“How is it being me?”
“I don’t prefer it,” he replied in an even tone. It was diplomatic, to say the least.
The Sweet Winds of Change
After that, things in our home shifted. Hubby continues to make sure I am well-rested, either by letting me sleep in the mornings or go for a nap in the afternoons. While I became the main dishes-doer again, he has become more conscientious of how many dishes he piles up, rinsing and reusing or washing and using instead of pulling yet more dishes, pots or pans out of the cupboard.
Now, I just have to teach him the art of working while children play between his knees, cuz he really needs help with that!