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I spoke on the phone to an old acquaintance, and he confessed the following:

His second child was born half a year ago, the first child is now three. He goes to work, while his wife stays home with the children. He loves his children deeply and wants to spend time with them. But their activity and noise overwhelms him and causes him stress. He feels he can no longer relax at home, and after a weekend with his family he feels relieved when I can go back to work on Monday. He is deeply ashamed and sad about his feelings.

Unfortunately I live too far away from him to understand what's behind this problem or how it could be solved. Of course you are in the same position, but maybe some of you have experienced something similar and witnessed a solution or at least understood the cause. I'd be happy about your feedback, as I would like to make some helpful suggestions to that poor man.

Feel free to add some relevant tags to this question. I don't know which ones apply.

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File under "Totally normal" –  Nat Sep 22 '13 at 21:09

5 Answers 5

up vote 36 down vote accepted

Being a father of 2 kids in the same age range and having been switching from an on-site job to a home-office for the past 2 years, I can relate a little bit...

Exhaustion Comes With the Job

I don't think there's anything wrong with your friend's state of exhaustion. It's a known issue for all parents.

Baby Blues 2013-06-07

At the time of this writing, I haven't had a refreshing holiday or even a week-end in more than 4 years now. There weren't many occurrences of these events to begin with, and they weren't relaxing or refreshing or replaining. I'm not saying I haven't had a fun times, but they all left me even more depleted than I was prior to these supposedly "relaxing" times. You either are full-time parenting, or fixing things that have needed to be fixed for, well, the times before the first pregnancy (you know, that distant memory of a life you had), or you do whatever thing you have to to do, but you don't really kick back and relax.

Occasionally you manage to have both kids take a nap at the same time and you indulge in your own nap-time or maybe attempt to read 3 pages of a book before you doze off, but it's only to then feel guilt because you haven't done anything useful with that "free" time instead of using it to relax. It's normal, it comes with the "job", and obsessing over it just makes it worse. So your friend should just embrace it and accepts it's how things are now: it makes it a lot easier once you get there.

Or Does It?

It doesn't have to feel that way though. It's hard to snap out of it, but it's up to you really to make things work right.

It's up to you to:

  • make time for yourself, your partner, and your kids;
  • enjoy these times instead of suffering from them.

You Can't Really Run And You Can't Really Hide

Also, while I don't think I ever experienced the desire to go to work to get away from my kids, I'admit that I did occasionally feel that way when time came to leave the office: I'd think that staying later at the office was actually less tiresome than going home and having to deal with shopping, sorting out the mess, putting them to bed, etc... Because it honestly was less tiresome. But, it's also not a fair thing to do to my significant other who was either at home with the kid ("only" one at the time) or coming home from uni. You can rationalize it in a number of ways ("I did that many shopping days, bed-time stories, and bla bla bla on top of my 80-hour week and this and that..."), but you're in the same boat so you just get over it and go home. Maybe you procrastinate or do actual work for an extra half-hour than you'd have done if the situation was different, but you don't "hide away". Ok, maybe you do it once in a while, but it's a bit like that nap you stole on a sunny Sunday afternoon: it doesn't feel quite right anyway - as your friend already experiences - and it's not something that should be a habit, as you wouldn't want your significant other to take that habit the other way around.

Quite likely, you want your significant other to occasionally do this:

Baby Blues 2000-11-05

Now, working from a home office is a slightly different situation, but it relates even more to the cause of your friend's problem: the noise. It's fairly difficuly already to work from home and take care of the kids at the same time if you don't have a caretaker and the kids don't go to nursery (for various reasons depending on country, culture, or what-have-you). If at all possible as you can imagine that handling 2 kids while working makes working a full shift a bit of challenge. But even when you are not taking care of them they do produce a, ahem, fair share of noise and distraction. And it's exhausting, like any noisy environment.

Kids are all different, and some are definitely noisier than others, but you can expect most of them to drain your energy rather quickly. Actually, it's not so much that they drain it, because if you don't actually do anything they'll still exhaust you. It's more that they drown your energy with theirs. You know, while they run around every where, scream, throw up, repeat a catch-phrase 100 times and do these other things they do.

So, back to my point... Now when I have to go back on-site, while I don't look forward to it, I surely do enjoy the trade-off and try to see the positive thing in both. When on-site, I enjoy the relative peace and quiet I get, and that I can focus more easily on work and I try to make the best of this time to get things done, even though that implies that the exhaustion comes from work instead of family over that period. And when I'm at home with the little monsters^Wones I appreciate that I can see them grow up and that before I always thought I was missing out on these things. I had to go back to work right after my first kid was born and worked long hours, and I'm sure every parent hates leaving in the morning before their kids wake up and coming back home after they've gone to bed. Sure, it's quiet, but there's something not quite right there either.

It's about seeing the glass half-full in both situations, and there's nothing wrong with that. As long as you're friend doesn't off-load his parental duties on someone else (too often) and loves his kids, then I don't think he's got to worry about anything. Being exhausted - physically, mentally and nervously - is perfectly normal, and longing for a time off is as well.

Schedule and Prioritize

Another suggestion could be to try to look back at his and his family's weekly routine and try to optimize it - without obsessing over it! - and see if they can grab 10 or 20 minutes here and there of "private" time, or if they can't get a friend or family to help.

I know that for more than 2 years we were far from family and didn't have many friends around and it was basically one of these times where you can't offload much (and nurseries were private and too expensive where we were, and so were caretakers), so it was pretty much just us. And it's hard. But once you have friends and family who can give a hand, don't feel ashamed to ask occasionally, and be sure to respect that help in making the best of the time they give you (by making it either productive or relaxing).

There are many "mistakes" we did as parents. They're more "rites of passage" than "mistakes", really, so just look at them this way. Off the top of my head, crazy stupid things we sometimes did included:

  • Spending too much time doing chores (cooking, dishwashing, ironing...) that weren't absolutely necessary. Once in a while, a frozen meal is OK.
  • Not planning in advance enough. If you pick up the kids from nursery and then you run around the clock to shop and cook and put them to bed, it's going to be tiresome. There are things you can prepare ahead of time. Food, for instance, can be prepared in batches.
  • Not knowing when to ask for help.
  • Not using time-outs effectively.
  • Not going out to meet friends because we're afraid it's going to be too exhausting with the kids. Yes, it will be, but chit-chat and time with developed human beings is great for you.
  • Not doing sports.
  • Letting small things pile up. That bill you've got to pay, this thank-you note you need to write (I hereby sort of apologize for the dozens of people who never got theirs, but not really. I was swamped. Get over it.) or this door hinge you need to tighten.

The pattern in those is that they're all errors in prioritizing on the longer run.

Anyways, until you can work on fixing things, take a deep breath and:

Keep Calm and Carry On. And Buy Noise-Cancelling Headphones!


Comic strips courtesy of Baby Blues.

"Keep Calm and Carry On" courtesy of the British Government, probably.

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+1 one of the best answers I ever read here... –  woliveirajr Sep 18 '13 at 17:29
    
@woliveirajr: Thanks. Glad you liked it. –  haylem Sep 18 '13 at 17:39
2  
And in other news, mommy is crying and screaming in a pillow right now because she couldn't take the noise and screaming anymore tonight. See, perfectly normal, everything's fine under the sun. :) Ok, I need to schedule a meeting or something tomorrow morning, something important and that lasts a looonnnnggg time... :) –  haylem Sep 20 '13 at 0:24
    
The latter is actually courtesy of the British Government, c/o WW2, and popularized recently (according to Wikipedia). You can remove the "probably" part :) –  ashes999 Sep 25 '13 at 11:01

I parsed the answers quickly and did not see anyone suggesting to not let kids shout that loud. Why is it so?

Ok, with a 6 month baby it is different, but why let a 3 years old kid shout loud enough to strain all the family? It should just be forbidden. If there are some games that are loud too, just remove the batteries. And obviously 3 years old kids should be brought once a day to place where they can run and shout freely for one hour.

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(a) I don't think it is beneficial for their psychological development to forbid children what is in their nature. (b) Children want to be in contact with their family, they won't stay outside to be loud elsewhere. They have to get older to want to play with their friends and without parents for longer stretches of time. (c) It is not the loudness alone that is stressful, but the fact that the kids constantly talk to you. (When I have to learn for uni, I open the window to hear the kids play outside. It is a relaxing sound. What is stressful is the kids wanting something from me.) –  what Sep 22 '13 at 11:02
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But basically, yes, letting your kids know what you need will help them learn to respect and consider your personal boundaries. But that is a process that does not lead to immediate results. Children learn this between 6 and 12. Expecting this from younger children will only lead to frustration, conflict and developmental problems. –  what Sep 22 '13 at 11:05
    
At 3/4 kids are quite ready to understand that you are not devoted to them and can't listen to them full time. Actually they should listen to you. They are also very happy to go to the playground with a nanny. –  Guillaume Sep 23 '13 at 2:22

@haylem was spot on. I didn't +1 because I'm jealous of the answer.

But I need to add to it because as sharp as his answer is, he missed a single very important point:

How long this will last? Answer: Not very long, in the grand scheme.

A newborn is a REAL pain in the ass. Nobody can sleep, they don't know how to say what they want, there's no routine, you want to get the laundry done, just the whole thing is just UUGGHH... for about 4 months. Then they're chatty, have a daily and nightly routine, they can actually be fun.

At 1 and 3 I'd have to say that this is as bad as it will ever get. In 1 year they will be 2 and 4 and a whole completely new world. In 2 years, the 5 will be in half-day kindergarten. At that point, friends and relatives will be on the table for babysitting... cuz no more diapers, that's why. They will have the ability to follow orders and recognize established relationships.

Bottom line is that he can stare at the calendar and use that as motivation to make it thru today. A couple short years makes aaalll the difference.

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I know from my friends and myself that this is not an uncommon situation. Kids at that age are 10% joy and 90% ordeal. I love my kids to bits and do anything for them, but I have to admit that they can really drain whatever energy I have after a day's work.

I went hiking by myself for 3 days during the summer, while my wife looked after the kids. I love walking and thought that the hike would relax me and make it easier to deal with the kids when got back, because I would be so chilled out. Within an hour of my return from the 3 day hike, the kids had me more stressed than ever (they were both in a bad mood and screaming and crying about every.litle.thing.)

I'm not being a troll but I don't understand how some parents want to spend all day with their kids. All-day every-day? Seems like torture to me. Remember I love them dearly but love and annoyance are not mutually exclusive.

I have to keep telling myself that it's only 2 years before they go to school. I know we'll look back on these days nostalgically, but when you've played the pirate game for the 100th time, in one hour, anything else seems like a release.

Even if I'm not working and looking after them for a full day, I am DONE by 12am. The repetition, the shouting, the 'wanting my own way', the screaming, the whines for TV, Snacks, visiting grandparents, the not wanting to get dressed, not wanting to walk to the store, fighting every step of the way...

Part of the solution is a friend his/her age to play with, that makes a BIG difference. They need interaction and this oldie can't give them the interest or patience they need.

find.a.playmate.

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After I posted this question this morning I went to work and had some time to think about the problem of being exhausted by one's kids. I don't experience my fatherhood in exactly this way, and there is one thing that I do that helps me to not feel "used" and "sucked dry" by my son during the time that we spend together:

Instead of attempting to be a good playmate to my son and make him happy, I take him along when I do what makes me happy.

I give my son about an hour each day on weekends and half an hour on weekdays being his devoted playmate. These 30 to 60 minutes I do and play as he wants: on my knees, pushing matchbox cars; in the sand, building roads and cities; swinging a sword and defending our castle; etc.

The rest of the time I either do household chores. Or I do what I enjoy doing. It is on purpose that I don't do household chores in the evening when my son is asleep or on days that he is away visiting his friends. I try to keep those times free for myself. When I do household chores, I ask my son if he wants to help me. Most of the time he actually helps me hang or fold the washing, cook, clean or do the shopping. From my perspective this is quality time that we spend together, and you can shape and design this time in any way that you want. Sometimes when we go shopping, we are knights, and he carries his sword to protect me. Or we talk about whatever interests us. It is not a serious and boring time, but at least half fun. And it is important to me that even at his tender age my son does not live in "Hotel Mama" but gets used to doing his share of the everyday chores.

When I do what I enjoy, I do this in a way that my son can be part of it and take him along. I like to go jogging, so he can ride his bike and race me to the next crossroads (or stay at home and play alone). I like to go hiking, so I take some sausages and he can cut the branches on which we grill them with my knife. I like to visit my friends, so I take him along and let them entertain him (which he experiences with the same amusement as I watch it). Whatever you like to do, just downtune it so that you child can share your interest, and then don't let having a child stop you from living your life.

Generally I think we are trying much too hard to create a childish world for our children. Children grew up in the world of adults for thousands of years. I think our children are clever, adaptable and eager to learn, and will profit from the same treatment – as long, of course, they are not prevented from having their own interests and their own lives, and you take some time and go and share their lives with them. There should be some kind of balance, of course, but being a father or mother does not mean that you need to give up your life for them. In fact it seems to me that those parents that keep up their childless lifestyle even after they have a kid are the most relaxed and most happy, because they are most themselves.

Of course there is friction and conflict and stress in my life, too, but I never forget what my brother and many other parents with older children tell me:

Your children grow up so very fast, and you will be very sad, once this time when they are small (and stressful) is over.

Now my son is six, and sometimes, when I look at photos from his earlier years, I have to cry, because I realize that that person that he was and that I loved is gone forever! Yes, he is not dead, and I love him just as much today, but that incarnation of him has been changed almost beyond recognition. The first time this happened to me, I swore to myself that I would never try to get away from him, and I implemented what I told you about above. I want to savor every minute of what little time we have, and this perspective relaxes me in times of conflict: I feel angry at first, but then I look at him, and I enjoy him! Just like that! He is such a wonder, and it does not matter, that he does not want to sleep but turns the light on and off while I want to relax and read the newspaper. I just stop wanting and am so very glad that he is there. And then I turn on the light and put him to bed and allow him to be angry at me for "never" allowing him to stay up (when actually its two hours past his bedtime and he is so tired that he almost falls asleep while I follow-up-brush his teeth).


Some rationalization for my practices (detailed above):

Compared to other animals, children are born with almost no instinctual hardwiring. I believe that this enables humans to better adapt to a wide variety of living conditions. Children are born with a vast ability and hunger to learn, and instead of teaching children to adapt to parents that adapt to their children – meaning that they learn to abuse their parents – you might without any guilty conscience be yourself and let your children learn from and adapt to you.

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+1 thanks for sharing this –  woliveirajr Sep 18 '13 at 17:31
    
"Instead of attempting to be a good playmate to my son and make him happy, I take him along when I do what makes me happy" That's really good stuff right there. –  monsto Sep 21 '13 at 7:38
    
That's awesome. I try to do the same with my 3-year-old, but for now I run out of patience too quickly. –  Kelsey Rider Sep 24 '13 at 9:09
    
@KelseyRider It gets better as the kids get older. I found around 4 to be the most difficult age. Younger was better and older is better again, too. Its two hard years, and then its over. You can count the days ;-) –  what Sep 24 '13 at 9:42
    
Oh, and make room for the wants of your child. When I hike with my son, of course I don't run up and down hills as I would do on my own. We stop at every bush and tree and don't get very far :-) I do my stuff at his speed. But that's a good compromise for me. And sometimes I need to entertain him and play that we are Roman warriors on our way to the next battlefield. I don't completely ignore his interests, I just say: the basis is what I want to do, and I add what is necessary to make it enjoyable for him, too. So often we both carry wooden swords when we go shopping :-) –  what Sep 24 '13 at 9:46

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