Finally, My Turn: Exiting the “Little Kid” Years of Parenting and Finding Myself Again

The first five years of my parenting journey were incredibly difficult. I had two children back to back, which is something I have never, and will never, regret. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sometimes make things harder than strictly necessary.

My husband and I had many troubles that affected our parenting. He was struggling through a chronic illness that left him partially disabled, and his disability led to a dark depression. His ex, who got along fine with him until she learned of his engagement and then became totally unglued, began interfering with our marriage in ways that were difficult to ignore. And, to compound all those issues, we both had undiagnosed neurodivergence for which we really should have been seeking care and support.

In the midst of all that, my husband constantly traveled for work. With two babies in diapers, one breastfeeding, and neither of them sleeping at all, it was a lot for me to handle on my own when he was gone. Hell, it was hard for us to handle it together when he was home!

I lost myself during those years.

I tried many things to find her again. I started a business. Began writing. Used social media as a creative outlet. Leaned in to friendships. Spent time with my mom. But in the end, none of that helped much. I was a chronically exhausted, latently depressed, drowning woman who only got to shower every 3-5 business days and hadn’t slept more than two consecutive hours per night in years.

I know other women have handled all this stuff better than I did. I’m under no delusion that every mom experiences the fatigue and utter burnout I went through. In fact, some women seem to find the best possible version of themselves during those first years of motherhood! However, I also know that there are many women who feel exactly like I did, or worse.

So often, women like us feel like we can’t discuss the utter despair that can accompany new motherhood. You don’t need me to list all the “well-meaning” but harmful catch phases we hear during those years. Reaching out to other people for help and support often leads only to shame or passive-aggressive slights. What’s the point of asking for help if all you get is being asked what’s wrong with you, why aren’t you more grateful, and why did you decide to become a mom if you were only going to complain about it?

To those moms, I want you to know this: it does get better.

And your turn is coming.

Now that my children are six and seven, parenting is so much easier than it was a few years ago. They have some autonomy and personal agency; they can do things for themselves. They also have interests outside of me now, which means they don’t rely on me for every moment of fun or pleasure the way they used to.

They go to friends’ houses to play. They sleep through the night (most of the time). They are in school for seven blessed hours a day.

My life is radically, mind-blowingly different from how it was a few years ago. And honestly? Even though I thought that seeing my children need me less would evoke feelings of distress or sadness, it hasn’t at all.

I don’t miss those years. I will never miss those years.

I’m sure one day I’ll think of special memories from that time (indeed, I already do), and think fondly of those individual, sparkling moments we shared. But there is an irrefutable difference between remembering special moments with fondness and missing an entire season of life.

I miss the moments. I do not miss the season.

And there is no shame in that, regardless of what any “well-meaning” person wants to tell you.

I need you to know, exhausted mom, that your turn will come. When it does, you’ll find yourself again. You’ll return to hobbies you love, or find new ones. You’ll sleep in again. You’ll reconnect with people you lost touch with when you were parenting from the trenches. You’ll shower regularly. Your marriage, if it needs to, will improve. Or at least find homeostasis.

The old you is still in there, no matter how hard it may feel to find her.

She’s just waiting for her turn.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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