The 10-Year Parenting Wall Is a Thing & It Changes Everything

When my first child was 2, I'd sometimes see a mom with an older kid and wonder why she had no interest in me. After all, we were both frazzled mothers co-habiting the park. Sure, I was following my toddler around the duck pond narrating every single thing in his environment ("That's a leaf, and those are clouds, and there's a little boy whizzing on the slide..."). But other than that, what was not to like about me? 


After two kids -- now 10 and 3 -- and a decade of 24-hour parenting shifts, I get it. Those moms who avoided me had hit "the 10-year parenting wall" -- the type of burnout everyone faces, in some way, after working an insane amount of overtime. They would have preferred to gouge their own eyes out than enter into the vortex of my child-centered universe where all conversations revolved around either the liquids going in and coming out of their bodies, or how to best keep the kids alive despite themselves. I know this because I've often considered a quick enucleation (that means surgical removal of the eye, you're welcome) while watching my 3-year-old's gymnastics class in a room full of moms feverishly trading school lunch hacks, collectively worrying if dry drowning is a real thing, and debating the finer points of co-sleeping.

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Let me be clear: I have participated in all three of these conversations at some point. There is nothing wrong with them. Unless, of course, you've been having them for 10 years and just. can't. anymore. They are like your most worn-out CDs from high school and college -- scratched to smithereens from years of being played over and over again.

I am desperate to talk about anything other than parenting. Let's talk about the Pythagorean theorem. Or better yet, about recreational weed and why we've considered it or never would. Paris, let's talk about what we would do in Paris if we went with endless money and no kids. Let's have uninterrupted conversations about things that the rest of society talks about. News flash: It's not kids!

After being a part of each nighttime feeding, lost tooth, and vomit cleanup, I'm craving an identity outside of motherhood. I long to spend time in the outside world, with people who aren't leaning all their body weight on my arm (at just the right angle to break it) while asking me for another snack and can I also put on the Curious George Halloween movie, but fast-forward through all the scary parts?

It's not that I want to quit parenting altogether, most days. I just want a more balanced existence that allows me to reconnect with myself, my interests and my talents, outside of making smiley-face toast. I want to interact with the world I remember before having kids. I also don't think it helps my personal situation that my 10-year itch coincides with my youngest being 3 years old. Not the most harmonious emotional mix going on between the two of us.

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This all may sound extreme to you, especially if you are in the early stages of motherhood where things are mostly magical and new. (I remember that!) You may even think I have some sort of mental/emotional disorder. I can assure you I do. It's called "parentitis." I'm the mom sitting all alone in the corner at gymnastics with earbuds crammed in her head to drown out your conversations. But dear new mamas, please don't change a thing. Continue to give your friend a minute-by-minute play of your baby's sleep (or lack thereof) last night. Continue to listen to her wonder if her kid has a dairy allergy, and then show you the pictures of all the rashes. Even the anus ones. And then all of you, keep being unsure of which preschool teacher is really the best fit for your child, and contemplate switching. I'm serious. These friendships and conversations were my lifeline for many years, as I'm sure they are yours.

And if, somewhere around the eight-year mark, you find yourself inching toward the next phase of motherhood -- perhaps one that focuses a little, or a lot, more on you -- know that there's nothing wrong with you. You haven't lost that mama charm that was with you in the beginning, as you stared for hours into your baby's smiling eyes, making idiotic faces and sounds. Wanting a change doesn't mean you dislike your kids (although you might sometimes). You are just evolving. We all need a change of scenery -- especially after a decade -- even if we are in love with our view. Remember the metaphor of eating cake? Imagine eating your favorite food for 10 years straight. Even just one year. You wouldn't be crazy to want a different meal.

It took me years to slowly get to this place of intensely craving change, and I didn't exactly understand what I was feeling, until recently. I confessed my 10-year parenting wall realization to one of my best veteran mom friends a few days ago. Her response: "Well, yeah. Why do you think I drop the kids off for all their activities?" The irony is not lost on me that she and I had never discussed this before. That's how much we both avoid parenting conversations -- we can't even have one about our need to not have one!

So moms still in the first five years of parenting, it's not you, it's us. But just wait. In another five years, it might be you too.

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