Most mothers struggle to find balance in isolation. Many of us assume that other mom has it all sussed out. We are often surprised to learn that we aren’t alone; that being a mother is hard. This post is the 2nd in the 10-Day Find Balance Feel Joy Blog Tour.  My husband and I just returned from a weekend without kids- our first time away in 3 years. I learned two things: I still like my man outside of our parenting partner roles. And I no longer need a break from my kids. (Trust me- the last time we went away I desperately needed the break.) They are so low maintenance and self-sufficient now. This time- I just missed them. My children are older than yours probably are. I know you’re in the thick of it- where every day feels like you are just barely surviving. Those days are long gone for me: My sons are 15 and 12 and my daughter is 9. I love having older kids- they are interesting conversationalists, super funny, and excellent bathroom cleaners and dog walkers. (Plus they sleep late and eat whatever I put in front of them.) I don’t have to schedule around naps and my man and I can have date nights whenever we want.

BUT I MISS WHEN THEY WERE LITTLE. Terribly. My time as a mother of small children is over. The past few months I have been grieving the end of that part of my life. I look back from here and have regrets.

I know I was a ‘good enough’ mother- I met their emotional and physical needs and then some. (Psychoanalyst D.W. Winicott famously said babies develop most optimally when they have a “good enough” mother.) I have great relationships with all my kids and I think they would tell you I’ve been a great mama. My regret is for me- not for them. I wonder if I really appreciated the short time my kids were little. I feel I wasn’t as present with them as I would have liked to be. I tried to remind myself that “This is it”- this is my life in this moment- but I know I kept myself too busy as a distraction from what was hard. Being home with small children can mean days that seem never-ending- the time between breakfast and bedtime can stretch on forever and every day can feel the same. I craved both time alone and adult company. We went on outings and had lots of playdates. (I am thankful there were no smartphones when my kids were little!) Busy was the antidote both to loneliness and to the lack of solitude. In the monotony of days with small children, it was hard to remember what made me ME. I found meaning in my everyday life by throwing myself into the rituals of domesticity- baking, crafting, sewing, home organizing. (Hey I was even on Martha Stewart when I was pregnant with my third child!) I rotated their toys and set up Montessori-style toy and book shelves. I always had the ultimate to-do list and a day that passed without getting things done was a hard day for me. Yes type-A and perfectionist. A few years ago we were at a friend’s house on Mother’s Day. When asked to share what they appreciated about me- both my older children said that I cooked good food and cleaned the house. Huh. Those are certainly important things for a mama to do- and I know some day they will look back and recognize that the homemade muffins they took to school every day were a pretty nice touch. I wish I could say at that point that I stopped putting so much energy into my to-do list. The creativity of these pursuits- and the satisfaction of feeding my family good food- was rewarding and I am happy I did it. AND YET I can see now that being so busy with those things kept me from being as present as I could have been with my children. I did spend lots of time BEING with them- but I think I prioritized things that seem really silly now that I look back. I think keeping myself so busy on top of the demands of having small children was to avoid the abyss. Having small children was like beading with no knot at the end of the string. There was no sense of accomplishment- other than the fact that everyone was still alive- at the end of the day. Now I see that my time with those humans when they were small was IT. The time with them was the thing but I didn’t realize how fast it would go. I remember the begging to “stay!” as I tried to get out of the bed after a 20 minute “lie with” at bedtime- so I could have a little bit of an evening. I remember the relief of a playdate invitation so I could have a few hours of solitude. The repeated requests for just one more book. The feeling of being so ‘touched out’ and sleep deprived on top of it. I wish I had stayed. I wish I read the one more book. I wish I had been their playmate. I wish I had known a way to fill my cup so I didn’t feel so depleted.

I’d like you to learn from my regrets. What could I have done differently? What can you do to find balance and feel joy?

  • Recognize that the days are long but the years are short. It really does go by so fast. When your toddler just wants to be carried all the time, picture her going away to university. When your baby wakes up 5 times a night, picture him going away to camp for a month. When you feel touched out, picture your teen karate blocking you when you go in for a hug.
  • Practice mindfulness. Today I manage anxiety with a breathing practice instead of being over busy. Even 5 minutes a day while you’re with the children can help. Here’s a great example of a practice you can do while you’re with kids and in just a few minutes. Mindfulness has helped me feel settled- it certainly would have helped me with being present with my kids. The abyss of being wanted, needed and exhausted wouldn’t have seemed so daunting.
  • Do Special TimeSpecial time is focussed one-on-one time with your child, doing whatever your child wants to do. I learned about special time from my mentor Laura Markham in my training to become a parenting coach. I put it into practice myself and I always recommend it to the families I work with. I started doing Special Time with my daughter and it has been amazing. She calls it “our game” and it has made us feel so close to each other. I believe if I had played with my children more (which felt so boring, honestly, that I avoided it) and made an effort every day for focussed one-on-one time that was meaningful to them- I would not feel today that I didn’t appreciate the time when they were little.

Today I ‘baby’ my 9 year old as much as I can- and I DO stay when she asks. We do special time every day- and I hope she keeps wanting to do it. With my teen boys- I try to be present and available when they want to show me a video or tell me about what happened at school. I relish the chance for a tuck-in. I savour the unexpected hugs. Late at night when I’m tired and they want to talk- I stay up.  I hope that you will be able to slow down- to realize that This Is It- to not be so busy- while your children are small. I hope that you will use these suggestions to find balance and feel joy NOW. I hope that when they are big you will feel that you appreciated the long days but short years when your children were small. Did you like this post? Read more on my blog. If you feel you’d like some more support in this wonderful and challenging time in your life, find out how to work with me here. 

  1. Wow, Sarah! This is so beautiful and resonates in a very deep and heartfelt way. My kids are only slightly younger than yours (11, 8 and 5) and I too have started to miss their “littleness” – the pudginess of their hands, the need to cuddle and snuggle, the call to stay and play just a little bit longer. I too “baby” my youngest in an effort to stretch out the motherhood moment. But alas…as with everything in life it passes. This weekend I went to see Pema Chodron and one of the big lessons I learned was that life is so very short, and everything about it is impermanent – like a rainbow in the sky…beautiful, miraculous and about to disappear. So are these days when our children are young. And I so totally agree that we seek to escape it through busy-ness, through a desire to accomplish and get it “right”. It’s a funny thing this human nature, isn’t it? Thank you SO SO SO Much for opening your heart and sharing this with our communities of mothers. It is such an important lesson. xx Alex

  2. Racheal says:

    The feeling of being so ‘touched out’ and sleep deprived on top of it. <— This is where I am at this stage of life. Thanks for this Sarah – It's a great reminder to really soak it all up!

  3. Jessica says:

    Perhaps the fact that you did take breaks and nurture yourself is what has you in a place you feel good about now, that is, about your present that is going along so well. The past is what led you to where you are now! I, too regret not being everything I wished I could be to my kids when they were littler, but I did the best I could with the resources I had available to me, and if I stayed in that place of regret… well, I’ve done that plenty and it’s not pretty! I had to take care of myself, even if it meant not giving every morsel to my kids. If I hadn’t taken those breaks or made self-care a priority, I wouldn’t be able to continue to show up for them today and tomorrow. There is no going back and doing it all, better. There is just being with, and being honest about what is humanly possible.

    • Sarah says:

      Yes I agree with you Jessica! I do however feel had I known there were more constructive ways to deal with the “abyss” I could have been more present. Had I been more present, I might not have a nagging feeling that I didn’t appreciate the long days and short years enough. Knowing what I know now- which is the kicker with regret- I believe it’s possible to fill your own cup, take breaks, nurture yourself while doing the simple things I suggest in my post. Thanks for your comment. It’s an important point.

  4. Erica Layne says:

    What a great perspective! At the stage I’m in, I can’t imagine feeling like I don’t “need” some time away from the kids. That was a little wakeup call for me—a reminder that everything is a phase, and before I know it, I’ll be in a new one.

    Great post!

  5. Jeni Becker says:

    Oh, Sarah. I’m crying and this is so wonderful. Thank you for the reminder to just be there. You are a treasure!

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