WHEN YOU BECOME A PARENT, you fall in love unlike any other time in your life. You meet your sweet baby and suddenly your entire world can be held in your arms and wears tiny diapers. The newborn smell intoxicates you. You could easily spend hours watching your child softly sleep, counting little toes and sneaking kisses. You never imagined you could love someone as intensely as you do when you become a parent.
The feeling is mutual. Your child is your most devoted fan. Sometimes the only thing that soothes a newborn is simply the comfort of being held by his parent. Just the feeling of a parent’s heart beating nearby is enough to calm an otherwise fussy baby. As soon as a baby wakes, he looks for a parent. If a child is frightened by a nightmare, he wants his parent. You could be in your 30s stuck in bed with the flu and want your parent. As a parent, you’ll never be needed, wanted and loved so much in your life.
And it’s exhausting.
Just as you’ll never experience love like you do when you become a parent, you’ll never experience exhaustion like being a new parent. Shortly after I gave birth to my first baby, I quickly became acquainted with this new level of extreme exhaustion. Turns out babies typically don’t sleep more than two hours at a time and sleeping in two-hour increments gets pretty tiring for an adult. Add breastfeeding struggles, colic and normal newborn fussiness and you’ll be lucky to get two hours of solid sleep from your little bundle.
One of my best friends, a bachelorette in her 20s, asked me in this early period of motherhood what it was like. I told her to reminisce about a time when you had more to do than hours in the day. For example, in college, when you had to work, go to class, do this, do that and then you had a massive project due the following day. So you just made a late-night pot of coffee, pulled an all-nighter to get it done and tried your best to play the part of functioning human the next morning. Early motherhood feels like that, but it’s a never-ending cycle. You have the all-nighters without the next day to crash and recoup the hours of sleep you missed the day before. Yet, you keep going.
You stay awake even though you have never functioned on such a severe lack of sleep. You get out of bed to answer the cries in the middle of the night, even though rolling out of bed seems like too daunting of a task. Parents endure the recovery from childbirth, the pain of infertility and miscarriage, the medical struggles, life stresses, balancing their work life and home life and so many other obstacles all the time. The love a parent feels from their child gives them the tenacity to keep going and so they do.
Typically, it gets better. Even if your newborn is a horrific sleeper, they typically don’t continue to wake hourly for years and years. Even if your toddler only sleeps soundly nuzzled nearby, eventually they grow out of it. I don’t know any high-schooler who still sleeps swaddled next to Mom. There will more than likely be a time when you as a parent will once again sleep in your own bed and wake up well-rested.
Even after the extreme exhaustion new parents experience ceases, you probably will never experience a truly carefree time like you did before you had children. Life is just different now. You have someone who is so incredibly precious to you living in this tumultuous world. So, naturally, you worry and fret. Years after your baby kept you up at night crying as a newborn, you’ll find yourself calming your child down after waking from a scary nightmare. One day you’ll find yourself staying up late until you know your child drove home safely. You may still worry and check on your child even if your child is grown and has their own children. (Hi Mom.)
No matter the age or circumstances, parenthood is simply exhausting. The level of exhaustion ebbs and flows as your child grows but is always there in some capacity. My oldest is only four and I have fully embraced my life with dark circles under my eyes and a cup of coffee in my hand at almost any time.
The exhaustion is truly a small price to pay for this incredibly rewarding and full life. After I became a parent, I experienced love for the first time in a way I’ve never experienced before. I adore everything about my children. Every little perceived imperfection looks perfect to me. There’s just something about loving someone so unconditionally that softens you. Experiencing this type of love provides a fresh perspective on your life that illuminates what’s truly important. It’s like when Dorothy first enters Oz and everything becomes Technicolor.
Soon enough, you can’t imagine your life without kids. A life without your kids looks as bleak and dreary as the tumbleweeds rolling through Dorothy’s sleepy Kansas town before the big storm hit.