For me, the hardest time to be a parent is Sunday mornings. Before kids, I used to love Sunday mornings. Sleeping late, then hot coffee, a thick newspaper, and nowhere to go until 11:00 Mass. After an hour of newspaper reading, maybe some cinnamon toast if I felt really motivated.
Now Sunday mornings start early—no later than 7—and rather than easing into my day, the day is thrust upon me with toddler Jamie yelling my name from her crib. Lifting her out, I am immediately alerted to her most pressing needs.
“Mom! Hungry! Eat! Chips?”
Often, the demands are quickly followed by a debate.
“No chips for breakfast. You can have cereal.”
“Chips! Want chips!”
And so the day begins. A friend of mine, with four children ranging in age from 2 to 10, agrees with me about Sunday morning, but contends every morning is difficult.
“I hate it that I have to be ‘on’ from the moment I open my eyes,” she told me at a toddlers playgroup one day.
We could both solve our problem by setting our alarms for an hour before the kids get up, but relentless optimism won’t quite let us do that. Maybe, just maybe, this will be the day that the toddler sleeps til 9 and we can sleep in a bit, too. It’s happened to me exactly twice in the ten years and five children I’ve parented so far, but still, each Saturday night, I go to bed thinking that maybe tomorrow will be the day it happens again.
In some ways, the Sunday morning epitomizes the sacrificial nature of parenting. While careers can often be juggled to accommodate both the needs of the child and the parent, and parents can get a babysitter for an evening alone, the fact remains that parents are always ‘on.’ Children—especially young ones—have no understanding that this may not be the best time to ask for a snack, to get in a fight with a sibling, to need immediate help getting dressed. Mature parents understand that children cannot yet look outside of themselves and see the impact they are having on others. So we pour the cereal, still half asleep; we tie the shoes while in the middle of an important phone call; we break up the fight while stirring the white sauce that cannot be left alone.
It is perhaps because of how difficult I find Sunday mornings to be that I am not quick to judge the abusive or neglectful parents that I’ve come in contact with as part of the foster care system. Parenting is challenging enough within a stable marriage blessed with an income and a half, good insurance and savings for college. It’s challenging enough in our medium-sized suburban house. With the support of excellent grandparents, some energetic teenage babysitters, and good friends who will watch the kids in a pinch—it’s still a challenge. Take away one of these factors, take away all of them, and Sunday morning would be the least of my worries. And for many parents, who became parents while still children themselves, the added reality is their own parents could never give to them fully. Never having seen a parent who was always on for them, always there for them, they don’t know how to be that for their own children.
I don’t always think of these other parents when the baby wakes me at the crack of dawn on a Sunday. Usually, I am thinking of myself, trying to think of some way I could manage to drink a whole cup of coffee, while it is still hot, without having to warm it in the microwave because of a diaper that needs changing, a crayon that needs finding, or a game that needs supervising. I’m not thinking of these other parents because I am busy remembering the luxurious Sunday mornings of my early adulthood— seven years of Sundays where the only person I was responsible for was myself — seven years that most people living in poverty have never had. It’s not until I start complaining out loud —or in writing — about how much I dislike Sunday mornings, that I really start to think about these other parents. The ones who have twice as many kids as me and half as much money and space. The ones that can’t afford the morning paper or coffee-shop coffee. It’s not until I start listing my Sunday morning frustrations that I realize how little I have to be frustrated about.