— Relationships —

Chronic Parenting Fatigue

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Last night I slept 14 hours. It’s now late afternoon, and I just awoke from a three-hour nap. I still feel like I could crawl into bed and crank out another eight or nine hours of deep REM before facing another day. No, I don’t have the flu, or narcolepsy, or a colossal hangover, but I have been serving as mother/hostess to a bevy of late teens and 20-somethings over a V-E-R-Y  L-O-N-G holiday weekend.

Before I had children, I considered myself rather energetic. I could jam through 18-hour days, hit the party circuit on the weekends, and assuming I got good nutrition and at least one night of good sleep during a five-day stretch, do it all over again the following week. But once that stick turned blue, something happened to my ability to muster. During my first pregnancy I routinely dozed off during staff meetings. More than once I was caught sacked out on the bench in my office with the door closed and the blinds drawn.

My first born’s determination NOT to sleep through the night for almost a year, then to defiantly quit naps before age two may have contributed to my 22-year long chronic fatigue. Somehow I expected once my children were past a certain age, I would return to my rested state.

I assumed once they could dress themselves, drive, vote, and drink, I would be in the clear, ready to resume my energetic place in the world. Boy was I wrong! The physical exhaustion of early childhood has been replaced with the bone-numbing emotional fatigue of early adulthood.

I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the space-time continuum, things shifted from staying up late for fireworks is a big deal, to the party’s just getting started after the fireworks are over. After a weekend of beach parties–that required stern lectures on protocol and phone numbers of who to call if you get arrested–to playing chauffeur at 3 am because of Uber up-charges and random road blocks, I’ll gladly go back to the days of preschool meltdowns in the grocery store. At least then I had some measure of control… or at least I thought I did. Maybe there isn’t a fundamental difference between trying to reason with a tired and hungry three-year-old and a gaggle of college kids on the prowl for a midnight party.

A little while ago, I walked to the bakery for a cup of coffee and a sugar bomb to start my sluggish engine. Outside was a young mother with a cranky toddler and a six-year-old, feisty with fury that his beach time had been cut short due to his sibling’s nap schedule. The mother was simultaneously soothing and negotiating, juggling gear and strollers and the ubiquitous cup of coffee. She looked exhausted. I wanted to tell her it would get better; that one day she’ll be able to read a book and take an uninterrupted bath. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the store window. I, too, looked exhausted.

Perhaps I should have told her that one day, she’ll be able to get a power nap and actually finish her coffee, but she’ll still be exhausted… for a different reason.




  • Jen Lawrence July 12, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    I have recently blended families, adding 3 older teens and twenty-somethings to my elementary school-aged duo. I had no idea about the 3am calls and midnight worry. These days, all I do is google “parenting adults” and “effective dark eye circle concealer.” Who knew? Great article.

    • Sara Cornell July 12, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      Jen, forget trying to “parent adults”… I’ve decided it’s a losing battle and every misdeed directed at our own mothers comes back to us in spades… just make things up on the fly and be willing to drive a certain distance with no questions asked. As for the under-eye concealer, I’m a brand expert in hiding the sins (both mine and others’) of the previous evenings, and will consider a blog devoted to same! Good luck!

  • Susan July 12, 2016 at 5:07 pm

    Love this, Sara! We have three married children and three grandchildren living close by, and when we all get together it is exhausting! But then I hear my friends say how blessed we are that they don’t live in another city, and I agree all the work is worth it. Kids never go away completely, but then you wouldn’t want them to.

    • Sara Cornell July 13, 2016 at 8:17 am

      I completely agree, Susan! As exhausting as it is some days (and nights…) there is a quiet once everyone has returned to their respective habitats that leaves an echo in the house.

  • Esther Zimmer July 13, 2016 at 8:30 am

    I don’t have children but I really enjoyed reading your perspective (I did have a bit of a giggle, sorry!) and I also sent it onto my youngest sister. She has a five year old, a three year old and a one year old, I thought this may help her ‘appreciate’ the grocery store meltdowns knowing that there’s far more to come. Or maybe she’s no longer speaking to me! Either way, a great read! Esther xx

  • Laurie Oien July 13, 2016 at 8:44 am

    Your interpretation of parenting fatigue made me laugh, because it’s so true! I’ve had a few late nights just waiting for the 20 year old and my new driver of 16 to get home safely!! Grrrr – Now I know what my mother went through. Lol

  • Carla July 13, 2016 at 8:50 am

    I am right in the transition period of this. Mine is almost 11 and the physical exhaustion from chasing her and wrangling her already feels a distant memory and I’m just now bracing for the staying up to be certain she doesn’t break her curfew etc. Loved this. Sharing this.

  • 1010ParkPlace July 13, 2016 at 11:05 am

    I don’t have children, but it just occurred to me that someday, they’ll be worrying about us. Yesterday I met a woman, only 10 years older than I am, but she looked like my grandmother. I think she’d had a stroke and was using a walking stick because not long ago, she fell down in the yard and couldn’t get back up. Surely I have more than 10 good years left. xoxox, Brenda

  • Wally July 13, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    What a great piece Sara- I deal with marriage multiplicity issues with young adults. Two kids of my own (one of whom needs to be told to relax about work and the other to get to work) three ex (yup, ex) stepkids who actually care about my advice, and the three “kids” of my live-in girlfriend. Somehow it works…..

  • Laurie Stone July 13, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Its funny how life doesn’t get any less busy when you’re out of the active mothering phase. Different things take their place. I still find myself loving sleep and getting out of bed in the morning is never easy. I envy people who are up at 5:00 am. each day. Wish I were one of them. I don’t even have the excuse of kids anymore!

  • Suzanne Fluhr July 14, 2016 at 1:39 am

    As someone with a delayed phase circadian rhythm disorder (i.e. extreme nightowldom), I’ve been exhausted pretty much all my life. It was especially painful when I had two children at home and a full time lawyer job. Now, as a recovering lawyer, I can sleep late, but I still resent being out of phase with the rest of the world. Interestingly, our first born son has the same problem. As a baby, he wouldn’t sleep at night and I couldn’t wake him up during the day. I found having two little ones more tiring, but less anxiety producing, than parenting two teenagers-22 year olds. There was the midnight call, “Mom, officer Bill would like to speak with you,” the party they weren’t supposed to have when we were away, and some more serious transgressions. My mother used to tell me, “Little children have little problems. Big children have big problems.” Our sons are now 29 and 32. The nightowl is married, so his nocturnal ways are someone else’s problem. The younger one is a digital nomad. Thanks to WhatsApp, he calls to chat quite frequently from wherever, Budapest at the moment, but I don’t worry about him in real time. It’s 2:37 a.m. I’m not tired. 😉

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