Why Parents are Bone-Achingly Exhausted

Why parents are so tired

It starts as soon as the babies are born – and I don’t just mean the exhaustion. The advice, “sleep when the baby sleeps” is well-meaning, and founded in logic. The reality is, I remember not sleeping when my baby slept. I recall desperately wanting to have a shower to cleanse away layers of breast milk, sweat, and probably some baby poop and pee. I remember desiring those few minutes of respite to check my email, Facebook, or watch a show. Maybe even drink a cup of hot tea without wondering how I was going to risk scalding the infant who was attached to my boob or hip.

As the kids get older, parents – but especially moms – still aren’t sleeping when the kids sleep. I know I used to worry about my friend who never seemed to get enough sleep, staying up until past midnight to either get work done, tackle family matters, or simply try to unwind by watching a few minutes or episodes of a beloved ’90s show (Dawson’s Creek, anyone?). I worried about her, how tired she seemed all the time, until I realized it was a variation on a theme that I inhabit as well.

I wake up early – far earlier than anyone else in the household. 6:00 a.m. is sleeping in – 5:00 is more the norm. I can blame hormones, or perhaps too much caffeine and too little exercise for this early rising. But the fact is, I think my survival instinct has kicked in. My body and my brain have had a little secret talk and realized that this is the only hour I’ll have when no one is asking me questions, asking for assistance, or needing to be prevented from causing bodily harm to self or others. This is the hour when I can drink a cup of coffee – hot – and write. Or read. Or surf the web. Or stare dreamily out of the window.

And it’s not that I don’t love being a parent. I do. And I appreciate my children’s inquisitive minds that have them quizzing me on everything from how electricity works (I don’t know) to what flag matches which country (I don’t know).

I sacrifice sleep for peace, and a break from negotiating with children, or brokering peace between kids. I give up shuteye for some time when I can try to remember what it feels like to be me, not someone’s mom. Not the almighty finder of things (yes, we do have ketchup. It’s behind the mayo in the side fridge door. Go look.)

It’s also a time when I can let my eyes rest on a landscape without needing to truly see it. Not scan it for dangers or mishaps. Not read my children’s expressions for sadness, hurt, anger or fear. Not try to balance five work thoughts, at least ten must do household tasks, and the nagging sense that a prehistoric diorama is imminently required in the grade 2 classroom and we are all out of modelling clay.

I know you’re tired – exhausted, really.

I know you’re shocked to realize that such exhaustion could exist and that yet somehow we still keep going on.

I never thought I could love my bed or couch so much, and yet I don’t yield all my time to them. Because I cling to the pre-parent person I also am. I nourish her as much as possible because I know I will need her when the kids grow older and suddenly they won’t need me anymore. They’ll slice their own cucumbers. Know all the country’s flags. Have their own opinions with little interest in mine. And although then I’ll have much more time to watch Dawson’s Creek, I’ll probably miss the era of exhaustion.

So we’ll get through it in any way we can – by staying up late, getting up early, taking a moment to ourselves, and gearing up for more hours of answering, protecting, developing and supporting our little ones.

I know we’re all spent. But we’ll make it through – with a late-night workout, an early morning yoga class, by shopping for groceries online while at work, and proofreading homework while waiting at the hockey rink.

We’re tired, and please don’t tell us to go to bed earlier. Or sleep in. Or sleep when the baby sleeps. We will if we want to. But some things are more precious than sleep.


1 Comment

  1. Jennifer on January 30, 2024 at 2:27 pm

    So very true…. I’m very exhausted on so many levels….. sometimes you need to do things other than sleep.

Leave a Comment