Help a Peruvian deal with the jetlag he gets from overnight and weekend trips to Bolivia
November 2, 2010 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Parents of 3+ year olds! How do you deal with being tired *all the time*? I've gone from being single and childless and in my early 30s to being the boyfriend of a mother of two boys (3 and 7). Things are astonishingly good between us, and the boys are great (albeit a lot of hard work, even according to their Mum), but I'm *so* tired after helping out with the boys - it's all the games of tag, the nerf gunfights, the question and answer sessions, etc. We're really enjoying ourselves, but ohmigod I'm exhausted. Help me not feel like I'm letting the side down at home with my housemates, at her place, out and about with my friends and at work. Other than 'coffee', 'more sleep' and 'less time with the girlfriend and the boys' (done, done, and ain't gonna happen), what are your protips for fighting off tiredness and irascibility?
posted by MarchHare to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The "irascibility" word at the end changed your whole question.

The rest of what you describe is "being a parent".. it's a full time job x5, you'll be tired if you're doing it right.

If you find yourself being "irascibile", that's the piece you want to look at...

Bottom line... consider yourself lucky and drink more coffee! :)
posted by HuronBob at 6:55 PM on November 2, 2010

Best answer: You should realize that you don't have to be the ideal playmate for the boys all the time. Do the really rambunctious stuff maybe once a week (depending on how often you spend time with them), and the other times either let them play by themselves or do something low key with them, like Play-Doh or drawing. Children need time on their own without being entertained or catered to all the time. It helps them learn how to avoid boredom, how to work out problems between themselves, how to be self-sufficient and how to trust themselves. They also need to realize that adults have needs different from theirs, and those should be respected as well.

Not sure if their dad is in the picture or not, or what kind of fellow he is, but you must also remind yourself that you need not be in competition with him for the boys' affection. The boys need to understand that it's okay for them to love their real dad and you both, and they're not betraying anyone by doing so.

Most of all, continue to have fun :)
posted by wwartorff at 6:58 PM on November 2, 2010 [17 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, they must love you to bits; you're giving them lots of wonderful attention. You don't need to amuse them. Help them learn to amuse themselves. Teach them skills, take them to the library to get books on doing cool new stuff, games to play, puzzles, books to read, etc.

In fact, set an example by doing dishes, and having them help, raking leaves, and having them help, you get the idea.

Kids do well with schedules, so there should be a bit of time for homework, maybe time for a shared teevee show, time for reading before bed, and regular bedtime.

In the role of step-parent, you have a lot of work, and not so much glory, but you can be an incredible blessing to them.
posted by theora55 at 6:58 PM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Is this a recent development? If so, you'll find that you'll likely become less tired over time, as you get used to a new routine and your body gets used to doing new things. Even mental activities (like the Q&A time) can make you tired, if you aren't used to doing them. It's like getting used to a new exercise or going back to school, really. Tough at first, routine in just a little while. Eating well, getting general exercise, getting a good night's sleep, and drinking plenty of water helps, too.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:01 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: HuronBob: fair point, actually. It might give an unintended impression that I could be talking about tetchiness at either my girlfriend or the boys. I'm not, and I'd hate for anyone to think otherwise. What can I say? I'm tired and it's not the perfect word choice. While I'm with them it's great. Amazing, even. But people at work know I'm not married and don't have kids, and I've caught myself getting snippy a couple of times with folks who are making jokes at my expense about how I must've been out drinking too much the night before. Stuff like that. Not proud of it, but there you go.
posted by MarchHare at 7:10 PM on November 2, 2010

Best answer: Agree with wwartorff up there. You need to learn about benign neglect. Let them do their thing while you sit in a hammock and read a book, or chill with their mom, or whatever. It's important for kids to learn they aren't going to be the center of attention all the time, and it models the important life skill of being a whole person even outside of your identity as a parent. ^_^
posted by Andrhia at 7:11 PM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Playing with kids is great, but kids do have the capacity to entertain themselves. Use that. I assure you that three is old enough to start getting the concept of "you need to play by yourself for a while."

It's good that you play a lot with them, but you do have to pace yourself. I keep hearing that a study was done where astronauts tried to keep up with toddlers for a day & just about dropped dead after 2 hours. Maybe it's an urban legend, but it sure rings true! Anyway, when you're ready to call it quits, tell them before you break it off --something like, "OK, this is the last time of X, then I've got to do Y and need you to play by yourself for a while". By telling them, it doesn't come as a nasty shock when you shut down the joint playtime. Stick to your guns when you say you're done, or they will learn that the envelope can be pushed. Playing by themselves is not torture or punishment, it's just fun of a different sort. Usually kids'll come up with something just fine on their own if left to their own devices. If they seem to be having trouble, though, have something in mind you can set them up with --like blocks or paint or playdough or trainset...whatever.

The other part of the team, of course, is their Mom. Speaking as the Mom of a 3 year old, yes, I really want my SO to play with kiddo. BUT, you don't have to be playing with them every single second to meet my minimum needs. Her method may vary, but in my household, my minimum standard of partner support is to be given enough breathing room without kiddo climbing all over me that I can accomplish X, Y or Z --Z being an hour with a book, a bath, or just time to wind down. All that actually requires is that my SO runs interference. Keeps kiddo out of my space while I'm cooking, responds to any MOMMMMIIEEES!! in my place. Maintains this buffer zone until I'm ready to re-engage.
posted by Ys at 7:17 PM on November 2, 2010

Are you really super comfortable being responsible for them, especially the three year old? Every time I start a new nanny job (very different, I know) I'm completely wiped out until I really get to know the kid's habits, personality, and environment. It's not like you can ever let your guard totally down-- constant vigilance!-- but eventually you can relax a bit more.
posted by charmcityblues at 7:22 PM on November 2, 2010

Best answer: I am the parent of a four year old.

Benign neglect is terrific, but as a working parent I'm kind of in your shoes: I feel like I have to make the most of every moment I spend with my son, because, well, because on weekdays its just a few hours a day and I want to make the most of it.

My first suggestion is the most obvious, but also (sometimes) the hardest. Adjust to their schedule. When you're at their house, go to bed at such a time that you're ensured 8 full hours of sleep before they get up. (Note: this may mean going to bed at 10pm on a Saturday night) In the long term, getting enough sleep is really the only answer.

Part of the tiredness is a sort of "intellectual" tiredness: its hard to be "on" all the time and always having one ear open if when you're doing something "for you" while they play by themselves for a while. In our house, the way we combat that is to take turns being "the parent". In your case, maybe you can let their mom sleep in on Sunday morning for a few hours while you do breakfast and get the kids dressed, and in exchange maybe she could give you a couple of hours to take a nap or just be "off" on Saturday -- time to recharge, so to speak. I get that this is hard when you're really only together as a family on weekends though.
posted by anastasiav at 7:37 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're going to get used to it, and as they get used to you things will settle down. Three year olds are like little Energizer Bunnies, they will kill you. I recommend introducing some calmer activities.

Do you like Star Wars? My kids got a big kick out of the movies at that age. Pixar movies are great for adults as well as kids.

Invest in Chutes & Ladders, Hi Ho Cherry-O, Candyland, and a set of kids card games like Go Fish, Crazy Eights, and Old Maid. Then you'll have a backup plan for when you're toast.

Arts and crafts are always a big hit. I recommend construction paper, kids' scissors, and glue sticks along with washable markers and crayons. Crayola Model Magic is a great treat and is super easy to clean up.

Introduce them to something you're passionate about, then you can sit together and work on things that you actually like doing.

I think what you're doing is great. Keep up the good work. It does get easier, and pretty soon they'll be teenagers and won't want anything to do with you. Enjoy your new exercise regime.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:37 PM on November 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yes on the 'benign neglect' -- though I like to do it with a lot of strategic planning; hit a craft store, put together a little 'kit' -- popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners, paint, glue, that sort of stuff -- hand it over, and go read the newspaper.

All the Nerfing &c is excellent, and kudos to you, but if you're wearing yourself out -- "March is tired, poppet; March is going to sit on the sofa and watch while you [...]." Get them excited about the next activity while you are politely telling them to bugger off. "And after I have finished writing this draft we will go the park! I think, if I get enough work done, we could even stop for hot chocolate on the way home..."

I am in the middle of some joint problems and my 3yo hears "Mummy can't" a lot and Mummy pops painkillers for parent-and-tot swimming lessons but other than that doesn't physically do much. 3yo is good with this, and her ball-tossing needs are covered by Dad and her friends. Even with a three you can definitely explain "I find myself very tired when we do so much playing! I end up all crabby because I'm so tired. And I hate being crabby with you and your Mum; it makes me feel awful. So because I'm so old and tired, I'm going to have to say no to [elaborate play scenario X] not because I don't want to play with you, but because I don't want to be a crabby jerk later."

(Ys, the version I heard involved an athlete duplicating the movements of an infant...!)
posted by kmennie at 7:42 PM on November 2, 2010

Mom of 3 kids: 5, 2.5, and 1. I'm constantly tired, but this helps me:
- I get up 2 hours earlier than my kids. I get up at 5:30ish on my perfect day, they get up around 7:30. I need this alone time to plan my day, drink a full cup of coffee, and just... exist in silence.
- I take a multivitamin, eat my veggies, and limit alcohol. Less fun, but not worth the energy tradeoff.
- I frontload time with the kids: play with them first thing, read to them before working, or just sit and spend time with them. This limits the "mommy-mommy-mommy" since they get time with me and then feel they can go off and do their thing.
- We go outside and run races, do silly stuff like rake leaves and jump in the piles, kick balls around, garden or do what it takes to get active. The hours from 4-6 seem to count the most.
- Lights out for me before 11. An hour of sleep before midnight is better than 2 after midnight.
- Don't waste time on people, activities or things that suck your energy. 99% of my internet time is completely useless. My relationships have contracted greatly -- it's just a season, not forever, after all.
- I also realize that my anger/losing my temper is always about my sense of failure. This is different from actively disciplining the kids -- my ANGER is always about me, not them. (I guess you could apply this to just about anything.)
- I make couple time a priority. This looks different to everyone but we try to spend mornings drinking coffee and chatting about important things before the kids get up.
- I plan meals and pack bags and get clothing out so that my irritation is not over something stupid like not finding socks or juiceboxes, etc.
- Melatonin works wonders if you need help falling asleep.
posted by mdiskin at 7:58 PM on November 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Conservation of energy is your friend here. You cannot engage in physical play with the kids at that level and be anything BUT exhausted. Really, I would reserve tag, Nerf battles and football for a couple of hours on the weekend. During the week I would focus on setting them up with kickball games etc they can play with each other, and expand your interactive repertoire to include reading stories together, board games, blocks, Lego and crafts. Do not not not underestimate the mileage in "Watch me! Watch me!" - while you playing tag with them is pretty much always their first choice, "watch me play tag!" is a seriously close second.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:25 PM on November 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far folks. Please do keep them coming. A lot of really good stuff in there so far, especially around this idea of 'benign neglect'. This is so, so different to my (admittedly) vague recollections of how my parents and my friends' parents raised my generation. We had friends our age in the neighborhood to play with without parental involvement of any stripe. So long as we were home by the time the streetlights came on, it was all good. If my girlfriend let her boys do that and other parents at the eldest's school found out about it, they'd be aghast.

wwartorff: you mentioned something in your last para that both I and my girlfriend talked about before I even met the boys, and something we both remain very concious of. She isn't looking for a 'new dad' for her boys. They've already got one, they see him on alternate weekends, and to their great credit they still remained loyal to him even as they warmed to me ("No - we can't go to the speedway with you and March - that's something we do with Dad!" for example). And I've never wanted to be 'a dad', but I can put in a decent turn as an 'uncle' figure to my cousins' and friends' kids of a similar age to these boys. And if I can, as their Mum's boyfriend, help her raise her boys to be the sort of adults she'd like to raise, I'll be very, very happy indeed.
posted by MarchHare at 8:29 PM on November 2, 2010

Three year olds in particular will wear you OUT. My oldest grandson is that age, and a few hours with him and his little brother make me worthless the rest of the day.

All I can say is, bro, you have to pace yourself.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:32 PM on November 2, 2010

Seconding the notion that you need to pace yourself and encourage alone time, which ideally should be scheduled and planned and predictable. "OK, it's 4:30. Time for you to play quietly for 30 minutes while I do XYZ, like I told you."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:07 PM on November 2, 2010

I don't have kids, however I have been known to lead an active lifestyle and nutrition plays a huge part in being able to maintain activity day after day. Are you eating enough? Properly? Do not underestimate the value of a well balanced diet!
posted by WayOutWest at 9:21 PM on November 2, 2010

The benign neglect that everyone is talking about is not about letting them go outside unattended for hours at a time, even though all of us did that as kids. It's about helping the kids find something to do by themselves while you sit nearby and do some resting/reading/working/whatever. You are still near them, but they are amusing themselves, with an occasional "March, look at me" interaction. There were a lot of good suggestions in this thread about what to do if you are incapacitated; adapt as appropriate.
posted by CathyG at 9:25 PM on November 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some of it is stress--mental exhaustion of constantly trying to play at their level (and handle the various conflicts and personality issues that siblings always get into).

One secret of playing with them without getting tired is to get them involved in something that you like to do. Teach them games you like. Heck, why not poker? Take them on bike rides, hikes, or get them playing whatever sport you enjoy. It is a lot less tiring when you are enjoying one of your own hobbies.

And it is the endurance things, the hikes and bike rides, where adults have the advantage. You can drive them to exhaustion (as long as you keep it fun).

And in general, if you are getting regular exercise, you'll be able to last longer before getting tired. (I say this as an older father of two young boys).

This is a bit chess nerdy, but chess champion Bobby Fischer realized that world champion Boris Spassky would be mentally exhausted after hours of chess play. So he did something very non-nerdy--he started exercising like crazy. It worked. After hours of chess, Spassky's play would degrade and Bobby would be going strong and would turn around the games.

And seconding the 'let them entertain themselves' advice.
posted by eye of newt at 9:51 PM on November 2, 2010

The more you play with the boys, the less they'll learn how to keep themselves occupied. Your job is to be their parent, not their playmate. Let 'em work their energy out on each other, and schedule playdates (and lots of 'em) -- the more kids around to keep each other occupied, the easier it is to parent!
posted by davejay at 10:02 PM on November 2, 2010

Further on the "benign neglect" bit: it is of great benefit to kids to just hang around in the vicinity of adults and be allowed to see how it's done. Not, of course, so much when you are just dozing on the sofa. When you are run ragged by the world of children but do not wish to or can not spell yourself wholly off, drag them into the adult world. If you want to have a friend over for coffee and a chin-wag -- so much the better if the kids can sit in the corner of the room with some Lego and simply eavesdrop. If you have errands to run, take them with you. Stuff that looks boring to you is often pretty interesting to tots not so familiar with it; I remember being hypnotised by the innards of the nicer sort of office building as a kid. And the exposure to the how-do-you-dos, and here is how you ask for help to find something in a shop -- vital!

The stuff about clean living and going to bed early is, for better or for worse, totally on the mark...
posted by kmennie at 5:56 AM on November 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Totally seconding the benign neglect that others mentioned. It is really important for children to not be the center of attention at all times. For the times that you do interact with them, can you choose activities that are less exhausting and more fun for you more often? My child really likes sitting next to me and watching me play Mario games on the Wii for example (and then they can help me as well if they like). You could also read books together that you both like, those kind of things. Consider splitting up sometimes for a couple of hours. Let mom spend one on one time with the 3 year old while you do something not exhausting (visit a science or nature museum?) with the 7 year old. This helps you both, because for her having only one child to entertain will also feel much easier than having two. And then, after they both had a great time, you can let them play mostly by themselves for the rest of the day so that you can enjoy eachothers company.
posted by davar at 6:15 AM on November 3, 2010

By the by . . . you mention that you're getting irritable with co-workers for "teasing" you about late nights drinking, when you're exhausted from entertaining young children.

Managing your energy levels is part of the solution, but you also need a solution for your co-workers. One solution is preparing a list of snappy come-backs. One solution is straight-up honesty ("I've started seeing a lovely lady with a 3-year-old and a 7-year-old, and man, those kids run me ragged! ") You may not like sharing so much with your co-workers, or rewarding their presumption with information, but some self-disclosure there may ease one source of stress and irritation.

(Frankly, if I were getting that kind of teasing under those circumstances, I'd be pretty darn grumpy too. Geesh.)
posted by endless_forms at 6:55 AM on November 3, 2010

One other thought: Friends are GOOD! Any time you have other kids around that they can play with, the focus is off you and onto the newcomers. There is some refereeing to be done, but there's a LOT to be said for letting kids wear kids out, and it doesn't need to be some huge, choreographed social event.
posted by Ys at 12:46 PM on November 3, 2010

Watch more movies? Seriously, though, I'm not someone who would say let the boob tube raise your kid or anything, but a little Scooby Doo and some Last Airbender never hurt a kid. That gives you a break, too, at least for an hour or two.
posted by Rocket26 at 1:01 PM on November 3, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions, folks. They've been really helpful, and I'm already feeling less stressed and tired (most days, at least!).
posted by MarchHare at 1:06 AM on December 7, 2010

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