The Evolution of Mom Exhaustion

Moms are a tired group, as raising small humans is no easy task. The internet is filled with memes about exhaustion; moms can be heard at the park, at Target, and all over discussing the many reason they are so tired. Despite a few too many all nighters in college and late nights out in my 20s, I had never experienced exhaustion like the sleeplessness I felt after having my first child.

My children are now ages 5 and 7, and generally, they both sleep most of the night these days. But I realized — I’m still exhausted. It got me thinking about what exactly is making me so tired?

When the kids were small, it was a physical exhaustion. I was constantly up during the night soothing one of them. At least once a week I ended up sleeping on the floor, in the rocker or pacing the halls bouncing a child. I spent my days carrying at least one, often both of them. They were always climbing on me or sitting on my lap. Playtime required me to get on the floor or chase one of them, and someone was always touching or grabbing at me. It was all so physically demanding. I remember the feeling of being spent at the end of each day. I didn’t have trouble falling asleep because my body was tired. It was staying asleep or managing to get more than a few hours of uninterrupted rest that led to my exhaustion.

Holding the babies — both of them.

While part of me misses those days of my children always physically needing me, it is nice to have (most of) my personal space back. I can still carry my son, but those days are coming to end soon, and it isn’t even possible for me to lift both of my children at the same any more.

These days I am emotionally and mentally exhausted at the end of each day. Particularly now that it is summer, and both my kids are home all day, every day. By 9 a.m. I have already broken up multiple fights over such important issues as who gets to use the R2-D2 spoon and who sounds the most like a real cat when they meow. My children are constantly asking questions and wanting to better understand everything that is going on around them. I used to be able to get away with vague answers or changing the subject when it came to something I didn’t want to explain, but those days are gone. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching them learn and figure out the world. I realize this is the good stuff, helping shape them and teach them about the world. But some days, well most days, it wears me down. After spending 20 minutes explaining exactly how a tampon works followed by another 30 minutes discussing Pokemon characters, my brain is done. And it is only noon.

We have also entered the age of problems that aren’t black and white. When they were younger, problems with friends involved sharing a princess toy or taking turns on the slide. It was a much simpler problem for me to help them solve. Now I’m faced with, “I don’t want to go because no one is going to want to play with me.” Or “He likes so and so better than me, what am I doing wrong?” As they grow, their relationships with their peers have become more complicated. I strive to guide them the best I can, but some days it doesn’t feel like enough. Or sometimes I feel like rolling my eyes and telling them to toughen up. I realize this is where “real” parenting happens, in these small moments of encouragement and direction, so I try to maintain a consistent message. But I often find myself replaying these conversations at the end of the day and wondering if I’m doing it right or getting it completely wrong. Suddenly it is midnight, and I can’t sleep because I’ve let my imagination jump ahead 10 years, and I’m worried that all of these moments when they were young have turned me into a mom I never meant to be.  Cue the exhaustion and feeling of being emotionally drained the next morning, even though everyone managed to sleep in their own beds the entire night. 

I suspect this problem won’t be going away any time soon. I’ve heard the phrase “bigger kids, bigger problems'” many times, and I can see why it’s so popular. And we haven’t even hit middle school yet! Before I had kids, I wondered why moms were always complaining about being tired even though their kids were older. Now that I’m in the thick of it, it seems like exhaustion is just something all moms learn to live with. Whether our babies are being rocked, climbing all over us, asking a million questions or keeping us up at night with worry, feeling truly rested after a good night’s sleep seems like a dream at this point.

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