It’s been a hot minute since I posted, and it’s not been for lack of inspiration. I have a note on my phone with seven different posts I want to write! But, life has been crazy. I’m fairly certain that life will be crazy for the foreseeable future.
Life with five kids is a lot. For me, going from two to three was a challenging transition, and then going from three to four was just the gradual process of becoming a parental figure to my stepdaughter, Penny. She’s our oldest, so it wasn’t exactly the same as adding a new baby to the family.
With Finley, I really feel the five. FIVE. It’s grueling, to be honest.
You would think that co-parenting with four parents would be easier in a way. We only have four of our kids about 50% of the time, because the other 50% they are with their other parents. And in some ways, it is pretty awesome. We get to have some quiet nights with just Finley, and some nights with just Finley and Penny, and some nights with the Westys (that’s what we call my three kiddos from my previous marriage) and Finley, which is a different dynamic than when we have all five.
Having times without all of the kids gives me and RJ the ability to decompress a bit and recharge for the next time we have them. When we have all of them, we call it “Kid Chaos,” and the name is fitting. It can feel a tad chaotic when you’re holding a baby, two kids are crying at once, and the other two are asking you for things. Oh, and there’s poop, too. Where? Just everywhere. In diapers, unflushed in toilets, in the dog’s crate, possibly on me somewhere. It’s par for the course.
So the days when we have fewer kids are really helpful for our sanity—or what’s left of it.
But, in other ways, our co-parenting lifestyle is more challenging. The scheduling alone could be an Olympic sport. Even as someone who enjoys organization and lists and calendars and schedules, I can’t always keep track of who’s supposed to be where and when. I absolutely hate being the one who dropped the ball in the parenting game.
The hardest part, though, is the emotional side of things.
My mental state is drastically affected by which kids are with me on any given day. When it’s Kid Chaos, I automatically go into Mom Boss mode. I summon the patience and energy to keep things running (mostly) smoothly. I pull out some of my best parenting tactics and often find myself satisfied with my work at the end of the day.
But, if Kid Chaos goes on too long, I run out of steam. I sometimes describe stress to my kids like air in a balloon. If you’re blowing up a balloon, and you keep adding more and more air, eventually it’s going to burst. If you stop adding air, and maybe even let some out, then you will be able to fill it up again later without it bursting. All the things in life that cause stress are like air that you’re adding to your balloon. Taking time to release some of that pressure—to pause, rest, and recharge—is important to prevent a blowup, AKA an emotional meltdown.
So, needless to say, when Kid Chaos goes on longer than my personal balloon can handle, it doesn’t end well. Those are the days that I consider “bad parenting” days. Am I too hard on myself? Possibly. But in any case, yelling at my kids is not something I want to do, ever. So when I fail at keeping myself regulated and end up adding to the chaos with my own out-of-control emotions, I consider that a parenting fail.
When it’s time to bring the Westys to their dad, I usually have a complex tangle of emotions to process. I feel relief, because I can finally let some air out of my balloon. Even if my balloon didn’t survive, well, at least I have time to acquire a new one. (Metaphorically speaking…) When I get a break, I have a chance to mentally recover from any bad moments I had with the kids. That brings a sense of relief, because God only knows I need those breaks.
But the feeling of relief is very quickly followed by guilt. Mom-guilt is a powerful force, and I have loads of it. There’s guilt over feeling relieved that I get a break from my kids. There’s guilt over needing a break at all. There’s guilt that I’m only half of a parent to the Westys, because I’m only with them half of the time—I know that this isn’t true, but it’s what that little voice in my head tells me.
There’s guilt in knowing that our divorce has caused and continues to cause pain to my children, because they are sometimes upset during the transitions and often miss the parent who they aren’t with. There’s guilt in hearing my kids tell me that they wish we all lived together. There’s guilt in every meltdown, misbehavior, and moment of conflict, because what if it was caused by the trauma of our divorce?
Guilt is heavy, indeed.
Plain and simple sadness is also entangled in the ball of emotions. I’m sad that I’m not with my kids. I’m sad and nostalgic about the simplicity of our lives when we were a nuclear family. I’m sad knowing in my heart that Cory and I were not meant for each other forever, and nothing that I did or he did would have changed that. I’m sad knowing that the first part of my adult life was spent with Cory instead of RJ, and that the first part of RJ’s adult life was spent with Amber instead of me, and knowing that I still wouldn’t change a single thing because it brought me my kids exactly as they are.
I’m sad that out of all our kids, only one will know what it’s like to have an intact family. I’m sad that I’ve done to my kids the one thing I never, ever wanted to do to them—and vowed never to do!—because I didn’t want them to experience the pain that I experienced as a child. I’m sad because I know that life just isn’t as simple as I once believed, and we can only do our best, and nothing is guaranteed, and things change in ways we can’t predict.
I often find that when I’m with my kids, I feel stressed and overwhelmed, and yet somehow also energized and motivated. But when I’m not with all of them, I feel relieved, and yet also sad and anxious and depressed. It becomes this paradox where “I can’t live with them, and can’t live without them,” as they say. I’m unhappy in both situations, just in different ways.
It can feel like each day I’m just spinning a wheel to see what it lands on. Chaos? Stress? Guilt? Sadness? Depression? Anxiety?
Which will it be today?
Of course, those aren’t the only things I feel. I feel joy and excitement, amusement, contentedness, satisfaction, and so many more positive things when I’m with my kids. They make me laugh, delight me with their adorableness, and warm my heart with their sweetness. Above all, when I’m with my kids, I feel love.
There is no love like a parent’s love for their child. I would do anything—anything—for my kids, and my highest priority in life is to take care of them. But also, there is no love like a child’s love for their parent. To your child, you are a hero. You are the one human in the world (or one of a very select few) that they need and love more than any other. You are the world to them. Even when they say they hate you, or that you’re mean, or any other angry and thoughtless thing that kids can sometimes spew at us parents, we still know that they love us and will forgive us. We can mess up again and again and again, but as long as we do our best and try, our kids will still think we hung the moon. That is such a privilege.
To love and be loved as a mother is the most priceless gift. Despite the immense challenges that come with parenthood, I wouldn’t give it up for anything. My kids are my biggest source of both pain and joy in my daily life. They are everything.
So, onward I march. I’ll continue to take my days as they come, one at a time. I’ll continue to spin the wheel. Or maybe the wheel is spinning me? At this point, I don’t think it really matters. I’m just along for the ride.