07 August 2008

Tunnel Vision

Thanks to Dr. H (of L&P fame) for alerting us to some inspiration over at One More Soul: This article is brief and worth the read.

Cheatsheet: Emily Sederstrand writes, “While new parenthood is certainly joyful and miraculous, the years in the Tunnel [the first five years of parenthood] can also be frightening, overwhelming and anxiety-producing. I have known many parents with two young children who say with conviction, “We couldn’t possibly have a third!” They often are working under the assumption that adding another baby would exponentially increase their current burdens, and they predict (incorrectly) that those burdens are permanent and unchanging.

I’m not naïve enough to think that parenting suddenly gets much easier once the kids hit a certain age. I have only secondhand knowledge of challenges yet to be faced (educational decisions and responsibilities, the sturm und drang of adolescence, activities here and there and everywhere, etc.). But from my limited perspective, I’m inclined to agree with Sederstrand: in many ways, the first few years of parenthood are the most overwhelming. I understand why so many people give up and say “Done” amidst the struggle to get two kids housebroken and socialized.

We haven’t hit that 5-year mark of parenting yet, but I’m already able to tell people with younger kids that in some ways, life with 3 kids is easier/more sane than life with only one or two. Never thought I’d say it, but it’s true.

Don’t get me wrong: Yesterday it took me almost an hour to mobilize the troops for a simple outing, if you count the time it took to nurse the baby, pack the snacks and diaper bag, supervise the bathroom visits, grab a few books and trucks to take along, break up the incidental fracases, get everyone buckled in…to say nothing of the emergency roadside stop—in the rain, in the mud—when the back row declared a bathroom emergency…

But it’s not always like that. And we’ve noticed that BoyTwo (not exactly a Compliant Child) will often, remarkably, follow the hard-won lead of BoyOne. A year ago, I would never have thought such a thing possible. We actually have fewer all-out battles of the will with things like church behavior now than a year ago, even with adding a baby. So by the fourth kid or so we won’t have to do much actual parenting, but just stand back and watch them fall neatly in line, right? (ha ha haaaaaaaa).

We need more of what Sederstrand is calling for in this piece: experienced mothers encouraging mothers who are struggling through those first “tunnel” years. I wish I’d had more women telling me this 2 or 3 years ago. Heck, I’d still like to hear it. We need more forthrightness about this whole adventure of motherhood: the darker realities, yes, but the light at the end of that tunnel as well.


The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I had a friend with eight kids who said that she'd couldn't believe how much easier it is to have eight than it was to have 1 or 2, for many of the reasons you describe.

I do think you relax somewhat, too. I remember when she was on the grass with her youngest, and her youngest started eating leaves. She just shrugged and said "oh well, fiber I guess." Another time I saw the exact same situation with a mother of six who calmly said "I suppose I should take that out of his mouth."

I kind of resolved to be like a mother of six when I had my second. I think it has helped us both :)

I would say that with both of my kids, the first five years were really hard, and then add the pastor's wife dynamic into it where you feel like people are watching you and judging you all the time; But somewhere around five, it does get a heck of a lot easier. There is more impulse control, and they are easier to talk to, even a joy -- without that tunnel vision factor of complete focus. And they are not hormonal yet.

Even with spirited or high-need kids (or whatever you call them)...between 5 and 12 or so is easier.

Gauntlets said...

>>I wish I’d had more women telling me this 2 or 3 years ago.

Indeed. I got all sorts of advice when I was a mother of one, and lots of friendly comments when a mother of two. But once number three came along, people didn't have much to say anymore. I'm not sure what to expect once number four shows up, but I daydream about those sepia-toned, bygone years when moms had many and stayed home. I want nothing more than a neighbor with whom I might share a fence and a frame-of-reference.

Blogversary said...

I had concluded that I could be relaxed with my first and second. The second has beem so much easier than the first, and I thought the first was easy (in all relative terms). Man, it must be super easy by the 4th or 5th!

My biggest issue is my need for alone time and I found it easier to get my walks and quiet time in with one kid. But, I get a great workout with a double stroller.

Thursday's Child said...

When the twins were born people would ask me how I did it or isn't it hard? It wasn't. When you go to fix a bottle, just fix two. When you get out a diaper for a change, just grab two. Not difficult. The neat thing...they usually don't have tantrums at the same time. Or if they start to, one will be pitching a bigger one that the other finds too fascinating to miss watching. Hard to throw a tantrum and have one at the same time. ;)

Thursday's Child said...

Sorry, I can't write. I meant...hard to throw a tantrum and watch one at the same time. LOL

Reb. Mary said...

Hey, this is all encouraging stuff.

There really is a lot to that more relaxed mindset. Even realizing that my two-year-old's tantrums are more his problem than mine is helpful. With BoyOne, the tantrums stressed me much more. Now, I just move BoyTwo to a safe and preferably distant locale and let him go at it while I go about my business.

Sandra Ostapowich said...

I never understood the overprotective mother types who sanitized everything their babies touched, regimented and regulated everything. And the books...all the experts say this, that and the other thing. The fancy equipment, the expensive toys. All so unnecessary. Just use common sense and do what works! And I only have one kid - and he's even adopted. :) I guess that's why my pediatrician (retired missionary) said I mothered like I had at least 6 already. Hah.

Susan said...

I've been thinking about this post for a few days. Being one of those older mothers who's been down the path, there are two things I want to mention.

First, I did realize how much easier it was with four than with three. And even as early as when #3 came along, the oldest was nearly 5, so she could be of some help. By the time I had a 7-yr-old and a 5-yr-old, and the little one and the new baby, things were loads easier than when I had just two kids. Of course, in my case, there was an income (as opposed to having hubby at sem) when #3 and #4 arrived, and there was a dear friend around (the senior pastor's wife who was also a stay-at-home mom and lived just a block away from us). So I can't promise you that it was just the helpfulness of the older children that made it easier, although I think that was the main aspect of it.

Second, while things may get easier for a while in the middle years (oh, say, when you've got a bunch of little ones and pre-teens and everybody in between) the demands on your time get ratcheted up as the kids grow older and get out into the world. Maybe the older kids need music lessons or involvement in sports teams or theatre or choir or whatever. And there's just simply their need to start making their way out into the world, with jobs and friends. These things cost money and take mom's chauffeuring time. And the big kids bring influences into the house that effect the little kids (not like anything bad, but just stuff that may not be the most appropriate for 3-yr-olds). What I found hard was the realization that you can't give your children "the best" when you have a lot more kids than the average family. Our society expects parents to provide all sorts of opportunities for their children: travel and sports and volunteer work and music/dance/art lessons. And we can't do that when our attention is divided amongst six or eight children. For those of us who homeschool, we also have the added pressure of trying to get a kid up to snuff on the Age-18 Deadline to send him off to college, without neglecting the younger kids who will also be facing their own deadlines sooner than we can imagine.

So yes, it does get easier --and not harder-- there for a while. But for life to continue without the stress increasing exponentially in the teen years, there has to be some real striving on Mom's part to remember that you simply cannot do all the things for your children that everybody expects you to do ... and which your children may (?) be longing for, just like "everybody else" has. Luckily, most of my kids weren't putting pressure on me to involve them in all sorts of cool community activities. But there was plenty of pressure I put on myself, and which others inadvertently (or sometimes intentionally) put on me. So while things may definitely ease up about the time the third or fourth baby arrives, things will get a lot harder again if you expect to have children who are geniuses, or if you want to help your children make the most of their strengths and excel in their area of passion. Raising 6 average kids isn't too stressful. But it's a whole different story if you're trying to raise 6 kids with all the opportunities available to kids who are raised without siblings or with only 1 sibling.

Rebekah said...

Totally agree that two tiny ones is the hardest. As for the rest, one useful scrap of info I took away from the Kippley book is that 2-12 are the best ages from a parental perspective, although I would definitely put the bottom line more toward 3 or 4.