I’m not sure if you’ve been keeping track, but it has been over a month since I was able to share anything from our household on the blog with you. Rob and I had a good five-week run of managing our nonstop time at home together with mild success and were making it work as best we could. A few days after I shared our previous update, the difficulties at home started to pile up and we just sort of had to hold on and try to take control of things as best we could.
Everyone is struggling with the new way of life that we have been thrown into and every family’s journey is different. The difficulties that Rob and I face with our two young children are likely very different from your own conflicts during this time, but I have learned that there is something so deeply human and reassuring to know that you’re not the only one desperately trying to make it through the day. So here’s a little glimpse at how I fell apart in the midst of this crisis and how our family finally started to get ourselves back on track.
Our First Few Weeks at Home
When this whole stay-at-home fiasco began, our family transitioned fairly well to our new way of life. Even before we started social distancing, I only had plans to leave the house with the kids a few days a week. Our outings were for things like doctor’s appointments, taking Dessa to Mommy & Me while my mom watched Harvey, and the occasional plan to visit a friend or family member. Our nanny would come to our house twice a week so I could work on the blog and bigger projects around the house, and the remaining downtime in our schedule was my chance to keep up with laundry, cleaning, and household chores. Rob and I are homebodies by nature, so the prospect of staying home really didn’t sound that bad – and I kind of enjoyed the novelty of having Rob around to eat lunch with us each day.
We had a few bumps in the schedule during the first few weeks of social distancing, but, by and large, things were going fairly well. My biggest pain point was missing our nanny. Without a designated workday for creating content on the blog, I had to get creative about finding time to work. It became increasingly apparent that quiet time on my computer wasn’t magically going to happen for me, so I started waking up at 5am to try to get some work done before the kids were up for the day.
Things were going more good than bad at first, but after a few weeks, the challenges started to pile up. You know that metaphor about cooking a frog? The one that says if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water they will jump out right away, but if you put the frog in comfortable water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog won’t notice what is happening and will eventually boil in the pot? Looking back, that is the best comparison I can make to describe the circumstances around my emotional health at home the past few weeks. The problems started somewhat small and kept compounding without me even realizing how much I was struggling until it all bubbled up to the surface and I found myself drowning in a great big pot of boiling household turmoil.
This is probably the best time to note that I am emotionally back on track. I feel much, much better than I did a week ago and the many tears I shed on a daily basis feel like a distant memory. I don’t really need encouragement right now and I certainly don’t need any sympathy because our family has been very fortunate through this worldwide crisis. Everyone is struggling in their own way right now. But life with two children under the age of three can be incredibly difficult at times and I am certain that there are other people with all the same struggles and feelings that I was experiencing.
So what exactly happened? Many of the past difficulties are a haze and a blur, but I’ll try to piece them together as best I can.
Two Dang Teeth and Not Enough Sleep
You may recall that the last time I shared an update on the blog, I mentioned how much I struggled on Easter and that the following string of days was a challenge for me. Harvey was waking up routinely at 4:00 am, naps were falling apart, and the sound of children screaming quickly became the soundtrack of my life. Then, Harvey finally started to sleep through the night. Everyone was rested and things were easy again. At least, that’s how things were when I shared the last update.
Then Harvey’s top teeth started to come in and everything fell back apart.
It sounds crazy, but those two dang teeth coming in started a terrible domino effect in our house that left my emotions hanging in the balance. We had just gotten Harvey’s sleep back on track after weeks of restless nights, but the discomfort of cutting teeth pushed Harvey back into his terrible schedule. The only way we could get him to settle back to sleep was with a bottle. It was exhausting.
Any disturbance at night from a baby can throw a parent’s sleep off-track, but Rob and I both agree that there’s something particularly awful about a 4:00 am wake-up. Whichever one of us was unlucky enough to tend to Harvey’s needs would often stumble back into bed around 4:45 and be unable to quickly fall back asleep. Waking up to deal with Harvey at 1:00 am or 2:00 am is annoying, but our bodies quickly fall back asleep when we are done. But at 4:00 am, it takes forever to finally fall back asleep and, when we finally do, Dessa inevitably barges into our bedroom during the 6:00 hour, fully awake and ready to start the day.
Rob and I have an unspoken rule that whoever wakes up at night to take care of Harvey gets to stay in bed for an extra hour or so while the other parent takes care of Dessa and starts our morning routine – which would be tolerable under normal circumstances. But my ability to wake up early to work on the blog hinges on a quiet household and a restful night of sleep. Each time Harvey woke up during the night, my time to work was forfeited so that Rob and I could be at least somewhat rested and functional for the day. Rob always tries his best to make time in the morning for me to work on the blog before going to work in our foyer-turned-office, but I’m always aware that it’s important for Rob to get work done for his law firm. Rob’s start time for his work day has already been pushed back since he started working from home and I feel guilty when my work on the blog delays his work that provides a stable income and health insurance for our family.
In the midst of our exhausted state from Harvey’s nightly disturbances to our sleep, we were having all sorts of toddler behavior issues with Dessa. They were understandable since she has been cut off from physical contact with her friends and the people she loves for over six weeks, but that didn’t make our little girl any easier to deal with. There were lots of screaming and crying fits. To make matters worse, Harvey was extra sensitive and even though we tried to ease his pain with Tylenol, the poor baby still wasn’t very happy. I was exhausted, frustrated, really tired of hearing my children scream, and struggling to find time to get any work accomplished.
So. Much. Screaming.
As the challenges compiled, I found myself growing increasingly frustrated and my patience started to dwindle. It was one thing to deal with an unhappy baby, but throw a toddler tantrum into the mix and I was at my wit’s end. Getting out for fresh air helps all of our sanity and one day I was desperate to try to get myself and the two kids ready for a walk in the stroller. They were each taking turns crying and it was impossible to get everything ready. I needed space from both kids and I also needed to prep the stroller for our walk, so I carried Harvey upstairs to our playroom, put him safely into his walker (that doesn’t actually roll anywhere on the plush carpet) and closed the baby gate to keep Dessa safely contained with him. Both kids were screaming their heads off, but I knew they were safe and it gave me a much-needed five minutes of peace and quiet by myself outside.
As our house was becoming more chaotic, I was starting to grow increasingly jealous of Rob’s ability to step into his makeshift office, close the door, and shut himself away from the craziness and screaming while he worked. In his defense, Rob always tries his best to help when my hands were particularly full during the workday. If he hears the kids screaming or senses that I need help when he isn’t on a phone call, he pops out of our foyer to offer to help restore peace for at least a few minutes. It’s all hands on deck during those moments, and Rob is always willing to lend a hand if he doesn’t have a work commitment.
When I Finally Fell Apart
As helpful as Rob tried to be, the household was still a lot for me to deal with and at some point, I just broke down and sobbed in frustration. And once the crying started, it was nearly impossible to stop. Rob did absolutely everything he could to lighten my load and give me space from the kids. The thing I needed most was time by myself away from the chaos and he took two consecutive mornings away off work so I could sit and work on the blog in relative peace and quiet. The help and time away was a step in the right direction, but it made me feel bad and guilty in a different way. I knew that Rob had clients who needed his attention and he had his own work pressures to deal with. I also felt terrible every time Rob successfully calmed Harvey down and that little man smiled at me. He is so adorable and sweet. I felt like a bad mom for focusing so much on the frustrations of Harvey crying, when he just wanted somebody to hold him. Then Dessa would see that I was sad and would ask what was wrong with genuine concern, which just made me want to cry even more. It wasn’t my toddler’s job to worry about my emotional health.
I started to wonder how much of my frustration was situational and if there was any chance that my feelings were being caused by postpartum depression. The thing was that I didn’t always cry. When the children were calm and in a good mood, I sincerely enjoyed my time with them. And Dessa would say and do things that literally made me laugh out loud. I just cried and got upset during the difficult moments. A few days were filled with difficult moments, which brought on a lot of extra tears, but I always felt better when the children settled and the house was at peace.
Right in the midst of my frustration on Friday, March 24, I took Harvey in for his 6-month well visit. Even though I was nervous to take Harvey out in public (to a doctor’s office of all places!) for the first time in over a month, it was a big day. We had woken up that morning to discover that Harvey’s fourth tooth had finally popped through his gums overnight. He had woken up at 4:00 am once again, but I hoped that the arrival of his fourth tooth would bring the return of restful sleep through the night. While Harvey and I waited for the doctor to see us, a nurse handed me the 10-question sheet of paper that is a standard screening tool for postpartum depression. I answered all the questions honestly and was relieved that my responses indicated nothing out of the ordinary and that my emotions appeared to be situation-dependent. Poor Harvey screamed through most of his well-visit, but he was healthy so he got a quick shot in each thigh before we went home.
Rob and I were really hoping for a long, restful night of sleep after those two teeth finally popped through and I couldn’t wait to resume my 5:00 am work schedule; but Harvey had other plans. He continued to wake up at night for several nights in a row. He still wasn’t happy, he wasn’t eating great in the high chair and I was just about at my wit’s end. At first, I figured he was restless because the vaccinations made his legs sore. My only guess was that he was already working on his next set of teeth, even though they don’t typically come in until 9-13 months of age. It seemed unlikely, but babies sometimes get teeth early and it was the only explanation I had for my cranky, drooly baby who didn’t seem to have anything wrong with him. I knew that he was healthy because we had just been to the doctor and he didn’t have a single symptom indicating that he had caught something during his office visit.
How Sleep Training Saved Our Sanity
Midway through the following week, Rob and I were out of options to keep Harvey happy and rested through the night. Nothing was working and we figured it was probably time to work on sleep training. After all, Harvey had been sleeping through the night a few months ago. We just needed to get him back on track. Our plan was to start sleep training on the upcoming weekend because we didn’t know how much Harvey would scream or how exhausting the process would be. That was the plan. But as I prepared to put Harvey down for his nap on Thursday morning, I didn’t have the energy to create the elaborate set of conditions that Harvey requires to fall asleep. It had been a long night, followed by a cranky morning, and I needed a break. So I fed Harvey his bottle, read him a story, then kissed him goodnight, laid him gently in his crib, closed the door and walked away. On a whim, I had made the decision to begin sleep training Harvey and there was no turning back.
Harvey cried for about 18 minutes before finally passing out and taking a great nap. We felt encouraged when he woke up with a smile on his face. We knew something was finally going right when Harvey took a second long nap in the afternoon and was happy for the rest of the day. We didn’t know how long Harvey would cry for if he woke up at night and we didn’t want to subject Dessa to a long bout of screaming while she was trying to sleep in the same room as Harvey, so we set up his Pack N Play in the playroom and proceeded with a condensed version of our nighttime routine. Rob took care of Dessa and I got Harvey ready for what I hoped would be a long, restful night of sleep. Harvey screamed for 40 minutes before finally falling asleep that night and didn’t find any consolation in my occasional visits to rub his back while he laid in the Pack N Play, but our efforts paid off. Harvey successfully slept through the night without a single issue.
It has been a few weeks since we started sleep training with Harvey and the effects on our household have been substantial. We got our happy baby back! Harvey has been so much more joyful since we got his sleep back on track. He also naps better and longer than he ever did before. And he’s not the only one in a better mood. Dessa is also doing great. She has been much more agreeable, is better at listening, laughs much more throughout the day, and has had notably fewer tantrums since we started sleep training Harvey. When Harvey was waking up at night, Dessa always handled the disturbances well and never even lifted her head off the pillow when we came in to get him. But night after night of waking up to her brother crying took a toll on Dessa, too – more of a toll than we knew. Now that both children have the benefit of sleeping through the night (for the most part), our house is completely different. There are far fewer tears, a lot less screaming, and two small children who are a whole lot happier than they were two weeks ago.
Rob and I are also better rested, I’ve been able to resume an early wake-up time and my own tear-filled emotional breakdowns have significantly declined. It feels as though our family life is getting back on track after we derailed for a few weeks when the problems felt like they were spiraling out of control and we were all exhausted.
I’m Right Here Struggling, Too
The kids are back to sleeping in the same room, our middle of the night adventures happen far less frequently, and everyone is getting a lot more sleep these days. I’m honestly enjoying my time with both children more than ever before and it is so incredibly sweet to watch Harvey and Dessa play with each other.
Things with the kids are going great right now, but our household is still far from ideal and the pressures are mounting. Rob has a number of time-sensitive projects that he is navigating for his clients that require a lot of time and attention while I try to juggle the blog, the kids and household responsibilities during the day. It’s a delicate balancing act and one that is impossible for one person to successfully accomplish without sacrificing sleep (which we know does not work for me). Crazy Together has always served as a creative outlet for me, while providing supplemental income for our family. In the nine weeks since our family began sheltering in place, traffic to our blog has steadily declined along with the income that it generates to help support our family.
These are strange and difficult times. I wish the solution were as simple as making sure everyone in the house gets a full and restful night of sleep. It’s still impossible to juggle work and family responsibilities right now without any sort of childcare and the extra sleep hasn’t made any of our problems or pressures go away; it has simply made them tolerable to bear.
Nothing has irritated me more during our time at home than scrolling through my social media feed and seeing influencers at home with their children going about their business as though nothing has changed. The women are all dressed up with perfect make-up, encouraging their followers to buy whatever fancy outfits they are wearing in a perfectly clean house without any sign of children or mention of homeschool struggles. That may be true for the women without children (and good for them if they can use this time to hustle and build their businesses) but every mom I know is struggling right now and just waiting for the craziness to ease up.
If you have kids and are finding yourself overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotionally drained by all of this, I get it! I really am going through all of this right along with you and when I seem to disappear from the blog or social media for several days, it’s because our family and I need a little extra care and support. It’s not easy, I don’t like it, and I wish there were more time and energy to spread around to all of my responsibilities. But this is where we are right now. Every family’s struggle is unique and I truly hope that you are finding solutions to get you through the little problems as they pop up so you can face the greater challenge of life at home.
I have so many things I want to share with you and I have a running list of at least a dozen posts that I want to write and publish on the blog – if only I could find the time. I’ll be back as soon as I can find the time to update you on how our family has been passing the time (and maybe share an updated peek at our home decor). In the meantime, know that I am here thinking of you with a giant knot in my stomach wishing I could somehow miraculously squeeze a little more time into the day.