Parenting hack: Always be the afternoon parent

When my daughter was a baby and I went back to work, I was the morning parent. I rushed through the crying and the diapers and the blow-dryer and the makeup sleepy eyed and zombie like. The mornings were chaos and no matter what I did, by the time I left the daycare, I was exhausted, disheveled, on the verge of tears, stressing about something I forgot or how late I was, and I had the inevitable spit up or smashed banana on my shoulder. Add on the giant guilt trip I put on myself for leaving my little peanut in that place. Not that there was anything wrong with my daycare, I liked it a lot actually, but it wasn’t my home, my teachings, my control, my love. Any wavering quiver in her little face became a shame spiral I’d go down and it would take every minute of my 45-minute commute to shake it off. Then there were the days that I would be totally over it, over her, over being a mom. I’d hand her off crying or happy, who cares, see you later alligator. Then the car became my solace. The one quiet place I’d have all day where no one whined or asked for anything and I could listen to songs with swearing for a minute and sort of felt like an adult…until I saw the spit up on my shoulder. Sigh.

A few years into this cycle, my husband changed jobs and we needed to renegotiate our parenting responsibilities. I cleared the early to work, early to leave hurdle at work and suddenly became the afternoon parent. I dreaded the early morning rise. I was barely holding it together getting up at 6:30am. A 5am wake-up was definitely going to be the end of me. I’m sure I stomped around and made a big deal about the sacrifice I was now making and how miserable this 5am alarm was going to be. Then it came. It was dark and quiet and no right-minded human with a small kid should be up at this hour by choice. I carried my angry face through my morning routine, tried not to slam down my makeup on the counter, and fumbled through the dark to find my closet to get dressed. I tiptoed down the stairs, grabbed my stuff like a ninja and slipped out the door to my car. When I looked at the clock, I realized that I had gotten up, showered, achieved an actual hairstyle that wasn’t a frizzy ponytail, got dressed in a color coordinated presentable outfit, and was in the car in under one hour. This was literally a first. Motherhood had definitely made my personal routine efficient, I just didn’t realize it because I filled that time with a needy toddler. As I drove to work, I realized that I wasn’t coming down from the wound-up emotional cycle that used to be the norm in the mornings. I was just me and I was just driving to work.

In the afternoon, I watched the clock like a hawk, I now had a strict deadline to get to daycare in time. They penalize you a dollar a minute for being late! I stressed about traffic and delays but it ended up being a fairly smooth ride to daycare. I arrived in my daughter’s room to retrieve her and I was met with the most enthusiastic welcome of all time. “MOMMY!” followed by a wobbly toddler sprint to my knees and a giant squeeze. What was this? Happy time? Is this how the afternoon always was? No tears, no whining, just happiness and hugs? I’m definitely in an alternate universe and it is AMAZING! I’m moving here with no return address. And that is where my love affair with becoming the afternoon parent started. I cautiously and anxiously waited to hear my husband’s recount of the obviously disastrous morning routine, and how he was going to have to quit his new job because he couldn’t do mornings, but it never came.

“So, how was it this morning?”

“Fine.”

“Really? Did she cry when you left her? Did you forget any of her things? Did she whine when she had to get dressed?”

“No. She was good. We had a fun morning.”

Whaaaat? Okay, he’s totally playing this off so I don’t know he can’t do it. But day by day went on and things were great. Am I just a disaster in the morning?

After a few years of this and the occasional schedule conflict and switch of parental responsibilities, I learned that I was just a victim of the rule of life that your kids are 100% worse when mom is in the room. That maternal bond is amazing but has this little loophole where your kids feel so safe around you that they put down all of their defenses and go full on vulnerable psychopath. Once I became aware of this, I accepted it and took the meltdowns less personally. Plus, being the afternoon parent was still way better.

The kids are well into elementary school now and I’m still the afternoon parent. It’s mostly still because of our work schedules, but even though they are self sufficient and generally responsible enough to move through their morning routines without much assistance, I could not put them on the bus or drop them off at school every morning. That minute watching them go off into the world without you is just too much for me to handle. They don’t run to the door and give me giant hugs anymore, and some days, they don’t even notice that I’ve entered the room, but I know they care that I’m the one to greet them. Plus, their dad is a great motivator in the morning. He runs a tight ship and gives good pep talks for when they’re nervous about something in their day. We’ve definitely found our rhythm and while it keeps evolving with the addition of after school activities that include forgotten meals, spilled water bottles, missing uniforms and late homework, I still love being the afternoon parent and embrace the newfound chaos with less self-doubt, more patience (sometimes), and celebrate the banana on my shoulder because it means I got extra hugs that day.

Afternoon parenting is my jam, but the real win came when I lost the expectation of how I thought it should go and just got comfortable with where it was. If I could take back all of the guilt and shame that I wasted on myself in those early years, I would. I was and still am doing the best I can and as soon as I think I have it figured out, something changes. Whatever schedule you’re on, I’m sure you’re doing awesome and I hope you find the rhythm that works for you and your family.

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