The Real Reason Parents are Always So Tired

You often hear the phrase “I need a vacation from my vacation.” I try not to use cliches, but after just a few days at the beach, I need a vacation from my vacation.

Unfortunately, I have a kid. So I’ll never get one. I’ll always be tired.

Parents are always tired. There’s a good reason for that.

You lose a lot of things when you have kids. (Yes, bleeding hearts, you gain a lot too – like a new perspective and a bigger heart and tons cuts on your feet from stepping on LEGO pieces – but becoming a parent forces you to shed much of your old lifestyle to accommodate your new one.) Never is this more clear than when you take go on holiday with your offspring.

What used to be equal parts bender and relaxation – a stretch of time devoted to drinking and napping, eating and swimming, staying up late and waking up late – becomes a test of endurance. A brutal battle to max out your stamina and maintain enough energy and enthusiasm to reap as much reward as possible, even as your energy and enthusiasm dwindles.

That’s not to say it’s not fun. Mom and Buried and I had a blast taking Detective Munch to the beach over Memorial Day weekend. He had a great time playing in the sand with his honorary uncles, and the adults even managed to have a few pops and eat a few meals without a few meltdowns (he was seriously well-behaved most of the time). Overall, it was great success. But this morning, even after a decent night’s sleep in my own bed, I woke up feeling… what’s the opposite of refreshed?

So what is it about being a parent so exhausting? (Especially a parent of a go-go-go toddler who has no independent life without his Mommy and Daddy.)

It’s not that having a toddler is physically exhausting, although it is. Running after him when he breaks loose in a store or a parking lot or on a beach; wrestling him down to brush his teeth so he doesn’t end up looking British or to apply sunscreen so he doesn’t end up looking British; carrying him to bed or to the bath or in and out of his car seat while he flails and kicks like a fish with limbs. All of that is definitely exhausting. But that’s not the real reason parents are always so tired.

And it’s not that having a toddler is mentally exhausting, although it is. Devising lists in your head every time you leave the house just to make sure he has his lovey and his milk and his snacks and some crayons and some diapers and some wipes and a stroller and the sunscreen and his toy phone and his coloring books; stressing out every time you think there might be egg or peanuts or gluten or glass in his food; worrying all night long that he’s being too quiet in bed or not quiet enough; gritting your teeth at a restaurant or at a store or on playdate when he starts to scream and throw a tantrum and people are watching you. All of that is definitely exhausting. But that’s not the real issue either.

Of course, being tired is not just for parents. Once you hit a certain age, energy is just harder to come by; pretty much everyone I know is exhausted all the time. It’s just life.

But as a parent, there is one primary reason I am always so tired: the lack of recovery time.

One of the earliest pieces of advice I got when my wife was pregnant was to catch up on sleep before my kid was born. It’s both incredibly apt advice and terribly stupid advice. Stupid because there’s no way to “catch-up” on sleep before you lose it; you can’t bank sleep. And apt because once you have a kid, as in DAY ONE, the amount of sleep you’ll get for the rest of your life – on both a daily basis and in an accumulative “total sleep hours” one – begins to diminish and never stops. It’s like someone pokes a hole in your canteen and slowly all of it drains out. And there’s no getting it back.

parenting, real reason, naps, napping, sleep, newborns, hungry, tired, diapers, dad and buried, funny, humor, dad bloggers, mommy bloggers, motherhood, fatherhood, winter, stress, kids, family, entertainment, boredom, fun, outside, lifestyle, cold, activities, mike julianelle, dads, moms, children, forever tired, tiredWhen you have kids, or even just one kid like I do, you don’t get a day off. You don’t have a chance to play catch-up. If you happen to stay up too late, or party too hard, or go out and get a little tipsy, you aren’t getting the extra sleep you need the next day. You’re not getting a chance to sleep-in until your hangover goes away or you get some energy back. You get up when your kid gets up and you follow him around doing everything he needs because you’re his slave and that’s your life now. The same thing happens when you’re sick. Your kid doesn’t care if you’re hugging the toilet or if you need your appendix out or if you have a headache. Your kid doesn’t even care if he’s the reason you have a headache (guess what? He is the reason.).

So sure, going on vacation with kids is still fun; it’s just not much of a vacation anymore. Not like it was. Unless you have a nanny.

In which case, I take back everything in this post and also I hate you.


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61 thoughts on “The Real Reason Parents are Always So Tired

  1. Oh so true!!! We are expecting our second and I’m a terrified. As I’m sitting here I’m half passing out as the 2 year old seemingly runs circles around the couch screaming.

    Oh- and best part of the entry? That last bit 😉

  2. You are dead on your description of family holidays.
    I also got the advice about sleeping before the kid is born. I may have given the advice since. Yet, it is totally stupid. It’s not as if you can store it up like a camel does water. Oh, if only!

  3. Well said! I’ve been trying to recover from our trip to Cuba back in September! But after reading this, I see it’s clearly pointless and I should just give up any hope of recovering. Sometimes that drink (or all of those drinks) on Friday night is worth the exhaustion the next day, though.

  4. My kids are now 12, 10 and 10. Your post reminded me of the unrelenting servitude that went into their earlier years. I am happy to report that they now put on their own sunblock, fill their own water bottles, grab their towels, books and snacks when we leave the house and I just have to do a bit of reminding. Sorry to report that I’m still exhausted.

  5. I read this on iVillage and loved it. So glad I’ve found your blog – even if it means I am going to throw away 2 hours I don’t have tonight, reading all your posts.

    Love your style. You’ve earned yourself a new follower. Sharing you all over the place 🙂

  6. This is brilliant. Whenever I’m out with friends, I get really worried when 8pm passes. I want to get home, get my stuff done, and get to sleep. One boy wakes up at 5, the other at 7. I need my sleep. But of course, due to night time wake-ups, I never actually get any sleep….

  7. Your article is funny and true, we have gotten creative-
    Sometimes my hubby and I will take turns: he sleeps in on Sat, I sleep in on Sun… Or we take cat nap while our daughter is watching q cartoon, or when she takes a nap… But you def have to adjust: we dont go to bed past 11 pm anymore and the house is not as clean… All I have to say is, it will get better when they are older, it will! I must believe it… Lol

  8. Your post reminded me of dragging my screaming three year old through Miami International Airport loaded with carry-ons and a car seat. People were looking at me like I had just abducted him. That was our last “vacation”. 7 years ago.

  9. wah wah wah

    oh wait, that was you, not your son

    welcome to being a mom

    did you write a blog post complaining about how much childbirth hurt, too?

  10. How depressingly apt. We’re trying to plan a “vacation” trip with our almost 2-year old right now and I just can’t bring myself to commit to any plans. I’m worn out just thinking about it. The potential sunburns (and my pathological fear of my son drowning), the napless days and subsequent meltdowns, the car trip misery, and who knows what horrors await us during our hotel nights.

    Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE to take him places and show him new things. It makes the world new and amazing again. But wow it’s exhausting.

  11. So true! But taking a vacation with one toddler is still doable. Not relaxing but doable. Try a toddler and a 5 month old baby. ..imposible. between trips to the toilet , diaper changes and feeding both, we never got anything done. I will wait until they are at least 5 &3 before i attempt another trip.

  12. Ha! My wife works rotating shifts in a, frequently, medium-to-high stress position and SHE goes to work for a rest…

    I’ve had the last 18 months off on parental leave, I look forward to returning to work for the break…

  13. I found this post after a night which culminated in my toddler sitting on my head and screaming into my ear at 4am. I had a headache by 5am. And now I’m at work (I’m a teacher). You are so right – the problem is that there is no recovery time. You just go and go and go. Glad to know I’m not alone.

  14. Reading this article maybe when someone has a child you shouldn’t say ‘congratulations’ so much as ‘commiserations’.

  15. I gave up reading this article after the two extremely rude references to being British. I am British, have a beautiful set of natural white, straight teeth and my toddler has an established regular brush/floss/dentist visit routine. We also never go out without sunscreen. My concern would be that your children may be American- obese, rude, ignorant of other cultures and with refinement!!!

  16. Lol the British references. As a Brit I was unaware of those stereotypes. I am aware of some American ones though. ..Arrogant, Ignorant, Obese, Racist and most worryingly Dumb – you are the guys that actually voted Bush in as a President! That sort of stupidity has ramifications for the whole planet and it’s Children. I’ll take red skin and dodgy teeth any day of the week.

  17. Thank you for making me laugh. We have a 2 year old and an almost 4 year old and I can relate so much to the void of recovery time. This shit is hard!

  18. I booked a business trip immediately after a Spring Break road trip with four kids in the mini-van.

    My wife asked why did you do that?

    I didn’t have the heart to say, “Because I NEED sleep after the vacation.”

    I love my kids beyond belief, but I always need a vacation from a vacation.

    PS. I owe my wife a trip without kids. :p

  19. I have 7 children ranging in age from 4 yrs to 21. Yes, there are times when it’s tiring and I have no patience but that’s not the children s fault, the same as it was not your fault when you did same to your parents. We don’t just go on vacation for our own selfish reasons, we do it to give our children fond memories of growing up. Good parents go the extra mile as they love their kids.One day my wife and I will have plenty of years of relaxing trips by ourself and we’ll probably miss the laughter and joy of those family holidays. You have the nerve to ask others here not to be negative, yet you yourself sound like a selfish, whinny bigot.
    Neil

    1. The author is just being honest and I believe lots of parents can related. You love spending time with your kids do not make us selfish!

  20. lots of offended people with no sense of humor responding…im a parent to a toddler and it’s the most awesome thing but it is also exhausting. I signed up for it so I take it all in stride. Your blog is great and I welcome the humor. .all others here should lighten up ..how do you get through life taking so much offense to things!

  21. Great blog! So true. I recently had 3 days heavy drinking in Prague without the kids – despite the 2am, 4am and 6am nights I felt the most awake and relaxed I’ve felt in 4 years – unbroken sleep and lie ins! I laughed at the Brit stuff as I am well aware of the teeth thing via Austin Powers etc. I feel obliged to apologise for my fellow Brits without a sense of humour! From an exhausted cousin across the pond.

  22. Ha, some of the comments are as funny as the post, but in a different way (read: amusing/sad). Perhaps some people are not familiar with mysterious concepts like tone and jocularity? I find your writing has a superficial negativity to it, all underlined by a strong positivity about life itself. Keep on keepin’ on.

    And the Brits who can’t handle the jabs: hilarious. They must have fallen off their trollies on their way to the loo.

  23. Glorious! Glad to see a dad speaking out… As an exhausted mommy myself and my man less into the topic of parenting and fatherhood (hey, not everyone is born to be the perfect parent) I’m happy to see that there are men taking on those subjects!

  24. Wonderful article that I’m reading at 10 pm in my bath…exhausted after a whole day spent with my kids (6 and 2)…Keep up the good work! Best wishes from Switzerland (where our teeth are not so bad but certainly not as white as yours 😉

  25. I am so glad I stumbled upon ur blog. I had googled getting my daughter to sleep is stressful hoping to unwind with other parents similar frustrations. It had been a difficult afternoon after grocery shopping with my wonderful, beautiful, lively toddler, coz we ended up waiting at a taxi rank for over an hour despite calling the taxi company and asking for a taxi twice. Toddler became overtired, extremely hot and humid day, all frozen stuff I purchased defrosted and I was overtired and cross at the situation. So toddler now asleep and mummy after reading ur wonderfully funny blog is relaxed and happy and somehow doesn’t feel so alone in this world of parenting where we can get carried away with outdoing each other in the I’m zen parent who never feels tired or frustrated and sleep trained/toilet trained/eatingtheirvegetables trained my children with the magic wand bestowed upon me by the YourTheBestParentInTheWorld fairy.

  26. Maybe you should take a look at your grammar before stereotyping British people. Not every Brit has bad teeth, also I’m sure that there’s a few yanks out there with less than satisfactory teeth (amongst the many other things such as obesity, arrogance, drugs, violence etc that blight your country) So please in future educate yourselves guys, it may be hard for you yanks to believe but you’re far from perfect too. Glass houses don’t throw stones etc etc….. Yawn

    1. So basically your ranting about not stereotyping by resourcing to stereotyping the heck out of Americans. You British sort of deserve a bit of a lashing for all those centuries of souless depravity , anyway. Don’t ya think?

  27. It’s funny you say you do things so kids don’t end up looking or being “British”. The British say that about our education so we don’t end up being like Americans. Funny that.

  28. I remember those days. My son is now 13 and sleeps a lot more which is great but the mouth and the ever incessant need to want does not get better. It’s still exhausting try to explain yourself. I am the parent you listen. Savor these years!

  29. Being full time selfless is exhausting because your not living for yourself. You don’t have time to further the momentum of you and your “life energy” if you ll allow that corny expression. I think the secret to being a successful parent is making your self happy. Physically – mentally -emotionally. So my advice: do yoga , do excercise, do eat healthy, do go laugh with friends , do read and write , and definitely do not stop growing and reaching for better versions of you.:)

    1. Ahh, who is going to watch the child , while he is doing it ?he already mention he can’t afford nanny , and these things cost money

  30. “You get up when your kid gets up and you follow him around doing everything he needs because you’re his slave and that’s your life now.” or you could just reverse the door knob of his room and put that to some use (hee hee). Unless he sleeps with you too in which case I guess you’re out of luck.

  31. I am glad to find your blog and posts, currently up at 3:22 am with my 9 month old son who still night feeds like a newborn. I am trying to keep my sense of humor and your work helps! Thank you. – Palm Beach, FL

  32. Brother, just what I needed to read to feel like a non-monster while on vacation in the Caymans with my wife and 8 and 9 year olds. I love them to the max, but coping has become like a struggle to tread deep and ominous ocean water without taking in too much water. I’m constantly agitated and feel further from “myself” than when I’m just at home. But hey, at least this vacation has cost me a great amount financially (those of you who have been to the Caymans that are not millionaires know what I mean). 5 days to go and I look forward to the semblance of a vacation.

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  34. Beatifull article . When parent truly care and involved and there are no parents live near by or friends that can help and not much money goes around especially if 3 peoole live on 1 salary , it’s pure hell to deny yourself constantly . I have 2 toddlers . And there is no short cuts . Going days and nights for 5 years now . Even while resting away few hours at the time I am working for them , doing chores .

  35. I find it quiet funny that people complain how kids being noisy and tiring which i agree its true, yet they want to reproduce more genetic species inspite of knowing all these. If you decided to make a baby get used to the challenges or you should have researched before making one the challenges of having one. Raising a genetic species is not easy given the fact humans are complicated living entity. I dont have a kid nor i want to have one. Because life is too short to live on social norm and making world more populated on a over populated world

  36. For the first time in 19 months I am laughing so hard that tears are running down my face…then real tears re-living so many of the events that you wrote about. Finally, the brutal honesty I’ve been searching for to help me to make sense of why I have felt like I’ve lost my mind and have no recollection of my former self… it’s because that person is in many ways gone. And yes, by choice, and yes, for a greater purpose, but still the reality of losing your former self combined with the harsh reality that I truly may never have a good night’s sleep ever again is tough to swallow for someone who spent decades as an optimist. If only there were more honest parents out there who had the energy and the time to share their experiences and to warn first time parents that it might not be all snuggles and lullabies, there would be more efforts to prepare and support parents through these extremely difficult times. Throw in the major hormone imbalances and lesser known complications from child birth that I was never warned about, and it was the perfect environment for postpartum depression to take over especially after months and months of sleep deprivation. Fortunately not all parents share these experiences that Mike writes about (and I am SO HAPPY and totally envious of you), but as a mom who unfortunately can completely relate, I want to sincerely thank you for helping me to feel semi-normal for the first time in almost 2 years. Hang in there, Mike! And keep up the great writing.

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