I hated this one thing parents told me before I had kids – now I 100% agree

Sarah Whiteley's two young children, a boy and a girl

I was just about to collapse onto my pillow when I heard a whimper coming from the bedroom of my three-year-old daughter, Immy. 

I paused, praying it was a one-off. That she would roll over and settle back down to sleep.  

Instead, there was another noise – a proper cry this time.  

‘I’ll go,’ I sighed sleepily to my husband Tom.

Creeping into her room, I stroked Immy’s forehead. ‘Have you had a bad dream?’ I whispered softly.  

Holding up her arms out towards me, my little girl groaned. ‘I’m going to be sick,’ she sobbed.  

Immediately awakened by the threat of vomit, I rushed her to the bathroom and held back her fine blonde hair as she emptied her tiny tummy into the toilet.  

‘There goes my early night,’ I thought, slumping to the floor and cradling my baby girl. ‘Just when I really needed one.’ 

I was exhausted. Exhausted in a way I didn’t think possible. And certainly in a way that I had never been before I had children.  

Previously, I hated people who told me that, as a non-parent, I didn’t know what tired felt like.  

I used to suffer from insomnia, tossing and turning for hours before creeping downstairs to turn on the television to distract my racing mind.

Exhausted at work, as I’d complain about my lack of shut-eye, a colleague would give me a wink. ‘Wait until you have children,’ they’d advise, before sloping off to get another cup of coffee.   

‘Being knackered isn’t just for parents,’ I’d think angrily.

Now, I still think that phrase is annoying – because I’ve realised how right they were.  

Pre-children, I could wake up for work at the last minute, throw on some clothes and dash out of the door while still smearing on my lipstick. I could get into bed with my book at 8pm that night when my body finally decided it needed sleep. 

I could spend my weekends lazing in bed until lunchtime while watching films.

Even when I didn’t sleep well, my time was my own and I had no-one else to be responsible for.  

Nowadays, as a mum-of-two I don’t have that luxury, to put it mildly. 

Before you have kids, it’s impossible to imagine just how ‘on’ you have to be – or prepared to be – at every minute of every day.  

Luckily, that night, Immy was sick just twice. 

Of course, we’d still had to get out the spare towels to cover the bed in case she threw up again, feed her Calpol and a few sips of water and soothe her to sleep after her sobs had eventually slowed.  

But on nights when she or her brother, Theo, had been ill and Tom and I had found ourselves stripping beds, changing pyjamas, even washing hair, at 5am, we’d still had to get up to go to work the next day.  

Our lives are a whirlwind from morning to night. Believe me, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I adore my children beyond description. 

But that still doesn’t make it any less exhausting.  

Now, when we finish work, we make dinner – often more than one – for four people. We’ll put them in the bath, listen to Theo recite his schoolwork, read to them, and wait for them to fall asleep before we can finally switch off.  

On a weekend, we don’t get a lie-in. Instead, my children will wake up at the same unearthly hour and ask to go downstairs, for us to get their toys out, to put the television on.  

And although we’ve had the occasional ‘movie afternoon’ recently when the rain has been heavy, we rarely spend a day indoors. Instead, we’ll take them to the park, or to a friend’s house for a playdate or to a party.  

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As well as finding less time in the day to unwind, I now have an even bigger reason to be tired.   

Theo – who, at five years old, still climbs into bed with us every night. 

That in itself I wouldn’t mind, but he fidgets from one side of the bed to the other, throwing random arms about, often trying to play with one of our eyebrows.  

For over four years now, I haven’t slept a single night’s undisturbed sleep and often, the few hours I used to complain about getting before I had children seems like a positively good night.  

And, what I’ve found out the hard way is, exhaustion affects you in numerous ways. It’s not just a case of simple tiredness. Your head aches, your ears have a dull ringing, your brain is foggy – everything seems to take more effort. 

Of course, there are mums and dads out there with children who do sleep for a solid eight hours and certainly people without kids who won’t sleep a wink.  

More importantly, life isn’t a competition and I think pitting parents against non-parents is a completely pointless exercise. There is enough judgement out there already.  

But, to anyone out there who is reading this while yawning or clinging to that much-needed coffee for dear life, I know what you’re going through. 

Really, I do. 

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