We all know having babies is knackering. Broken sleep, feeding and changing your baby in the middle of night, not knowing why they are crying, the physical demands if you are breastfeeding. We also all know having toddlers is tiring too with tantrums and toilet training and kids prone to wandering off at any given opportunity. Not to mention early mornings and night wakings that don’t magically disappear just because your child is no longer a baby. As much as we love our little ones to bits it’s exhausting. But we know that’s what to expect.
And we know it’s going to get easier. At least that’s people tell you. And in one sense it does get easier because school-age children need less constant attention and can do a lot more for themselves.
But in other ways it’s just as tiring. In fact more so in lots of ways.
I definitely wasn’t prepared for how mentally draining it is being a parent of school-age children.
My eldest two might be in school for six hours a day and my littlest for two and a half hours… but I think my brain is more tired now than it was when the three of them were little and home with me.
I’ve written before that the school run sometimes leaves me feeling as though I have run a marathon before 9am. I know I’m not the only one who finds getting three little people to eat their breakfast, get dressed, clean their teeth, put on their shoes and coats, and grab their bags stressful. Not to mention driving in rush hour traffic and trying to park in a safe space that isn’t miles away from school. Or navigating the walk to school with busy roads to cross and cars flying round corners at inappropriate speeds. The joys of city living.
Then there’s the sheer amount of paperwork from school. Emails and texts. Letters coming home every day, shoved into your arms along with book bags reading books lunch boxes and coats. Permission slips to be filled in and returned. Money to pay for trips or charity days. Sorting out costumes for dress up days. Adding an extra child or two into the mix with after school play dates. Comforting a child who has been upset because someone doesn’t want to play with them. The constant stream of class birthday parties. Buying presents ad cards and remembering to RSVP. Organising your child’s birthday party. Reassuring them when there’s a smaller party of a select few and they’re not invited. Remembering what days they need PE kits and reading books. Trying to fit in their school reading and homework. A letter about head lice and spending the evening checking through everyone’s hair with the nit comb.
The after-school grumps. Siblings squabbling. Everyone wet and flustered after doing the school pick up in the torrential rain.
Rushing to after school clubs and activities straight from school. Or straight from work when you’re starving but know you won’t eat for another two hours. The logistics of different kids attending different clubs on different days. Or the same days but in different venues. Giving lifts to other kids from school to activities. Texting another mum to to check they are still able to return your little darling. Keeping younger siblings entertained in a waiting area while the older one is in a class. Wondering what on earth you are going to do when the littlest wants to do after school activities too. Remembering to pay for said groups and filling in consent forms and selling raffle tickets. Ordering equipment or uniform. Sewing on badges.
Getting back home and rushing through tea, bath, book and bed. Probably ignoring the middle two of those on some nights.
Texting your other half throughout the day to remind them to pick up a kid from their club on their way home. When they have something on and can’t pick them up so you have to drag the rest of the kids out the house past their bedtime to collect their sibling.
Telling your kids that no, they cannot do another activity. You simply cannot fit it in and your bank balance cannot cope.
And perhaps all of this while juggling work too. Part-time, full-time, from home. Changing from ‘work you’ to ‘mum you’ in an instant.
Needing to leave that important meeting in time for pick up to eye rolls from colleagues who don’t have kids. Booking time off work for class assemblies and sports days. The logistics of breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, holiday childcare. Fielding work calls and emails while on the school run. When a child is sick and can’t go to school but you still need to go to work.
When the kids are in bed later than you’d like because of all the above and all you want to do is flop onto the sofa and watch Netflix but there are forms to fill in and and shoes to polish and lunch boxes to be washed ready for the morning in the hope it’ll make mornings a little less stressful. And there’s not only clothes to wash but school uniforms, ballet gear, and muddy rugby kit and swimming towels and costumes. It’s never ending.
Everywhere you’d like to visit being rammed with visitors at weekends and school holidays and it’s all just too chaotic. Debating whether to miss ballet or rugby or whatever at the weekend because there’s a class party your child wants to attend.
When it’s been one of those weeks where you have been juggling the back to school chaos and the restarting of all the clubs and groups and work has been stressful.
Your mind is about to explode with remembering who is supposed to be where and when, and what equipment and uniform you need on any given day.
And you wonder if it’s all worth it. Whether you should scale it all right back.
But then your child comes home with a player of the week trophy from their sporting club. They’re so proud of themselves it makes you want to cry. You hear your other child practicing their musical instrument without being asked and you realise they can play an actual proper tune. They get a badge in swimming or their next belt in Taekwondo. You hear them chatting to the kid who has come home on the play date and are so glad they have such a lovely friend. Even better because the friend’s parents are ace too. They work out how to pronounce a new word in their reading book without any help. Their teacher writes a lovely comment on their homework. They say their two lines in their class assembly so clearly and perfectly and sing all the songs with such passion that you have tears in your eyes and running down your cheeks. They tell you excitedly about an amazing fact they learned at school.
And you remember that yes; being a parent of primary school aged children is mentally and physically draining.
But you didn’t even know it was possible for a parent to feel so proud.
And you know it’s worth every single second of stress to support the little people in your life as they find their way in the world.