9 Types of Fatigue That No One Tells New Parents About

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This post is also being featured at The Motherish.

Dear First-time Parents-to-be,

You know those annoying jokes we make about being “tired” when the baby comes? The ones that have us sniggering enigmatically and hi-fiving other smug parents. We’re not laughing because your baby is going to keep you up all night. That’s nothing. We can do that shit standing on our heads. We’re laughing because you’ve got absolutely no idea what tired really means, and you’ll soon discover that sleep deprivation is just the tip of a very large iceberg of chronic exhaustion; one which you will smash into every. single. day for the foreseeable future.

Yours truly,

Tired Parents Everywhere.

P. S. Here are the nine types of fatigue that no one tells you about before becoming a parent. They will be your constant companion for many years to come. Enjoy!

  1. Emotional Fatigue

Being a parent is an emotional rollercoaster (with added vomit). There are ecstatic highs, demoralising lows and everything in between. As your baby grows into a toddler you will find yourself locked in a daily battle of wits with a tiny dynamo who has no impulse control, sense of logic or emotional stability. Life becomes a constant state of terse negotiation, where the choice between a blue shirt or a green shirt can spiral into a thirty minute tantrum. And it gets even more emotionally draining as they get older and smarter and more manipulative. Time to organise that wine subscription from Greys Online.

  1. Physical Fatigue

Feeling tired now? You’ll soon realise that pregnancy is just a light warm-up, and that parenting is the real marathon. Children require constant exertion: picking them up, wrestling with toddlers, rocking babies to sleep, chasing them around the park, cleaning up constant mess. You will eyeball your sofa like it’s the smooth-talking lover of your wildest fantasies, but when you finally manage to sit down they will scramble to scale your slumped form like it’s the newest piece of play equipment at the park. It will be years before you can sit down without being touched. Or sat on. Or grabbed.

  1. Micromanagement Fatigue

Being a parent is kind of like being an anally-retentive employer: with the exception of breathing and soiling themselves small children are mostly incapable of doing anything for themselves. You have to anticipate all of their needs, and then you have to perform every basic task for them: feeding, changing nappies, blowing noses, brushing teeth, wiping bums, drying tears. I still need to micromanage my five year old for simple tasks like getting dressed, or I will find him jumping on the bed wearing nothing but Spiderman undies on his head when I walk past his room thirty minutes later.

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  1. Vigilance Fatigue

Small children are consummate experts at putting their life in danger, so parents have to maintain a constant state of hyper-vigilance for years. Everything is a potential hazard and the smallest lapse in supervision can turn serious. If they’re not rolling off change tables or running in front of cars they are climbing the furniture, swallowing items that can choke them or sticking pointy things in the nearest available hole; mostly eyes, ears or electrical sockets. Eternal vigilance is the only thing that stands between your child and the emergency room.

  1. Noise Fatigue

Children are very effective noisemakers. Some babies are around-the-clock screaming machines and toddlers have four main settings: “constant chatter”, “insistent whining”, “outside voice” and “belligerent shout”. They are also very skilled at bashing hard objects together to make noise, and will practise this at great length and with great enthusiasm. Throw in the ear-piercing shrieks of Jimmy Giggle and cohort on ABC Kids and you will yearn for sweet silence like a parched man yearns for water. Or beer. You will yearn for that too, coincidentally.

  1. Entertainment Fatigue

I thought that kids mostly kept themselves amused, so I was surprised to realise it wasn’t the case. Little did I know that I was not just a parent, I was also the formally-appointed Entertainment Director for the entire household. My kids expected me to oversee craft activities, read books, help them do puzzles, create elaborate pretend play scenarios, ride bikes, dig in the dirt and make Lego battleships. It would henceforth be my sole responsibility to engineer a rotating roster of fun activities, set them up, participate with enthusiasm and then clean them all up once complete.

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  1. Worry Fatigue

Parents worry about the happiness and wellbeing of their children at all times, and our greatest fear is that our kids might come in harm’s way. Concern fatigue is an unavoidable side-effect of having children and it’s exhausting. We worry that we’ll lose them in Kmart, we worry when they get a rash, we worry that they haven’t eaten five serves of fruit and vegetables. Ever. We worry about what the world will look like when they’re older. We worry about their academic progress, their peer groups, their mental health, their every. single. thing. We worry. That’s what parents do.

  1. Thoughtload fatigue

Being a parent involves chronic brain-strain. There are decisions to be made, events to be organised, things to remember. Like an app constantly running in the background of your brain, thoughtload consumes large volumes of mental bandwidth and quietly drains your batteries. Organising appointments, remembering medicines, meal planning, deciding what to bake for the cake stall, devising costumes for International Pirate Day, buying Little Bobby a birthday present: this is the stuff of thoughtload. Think. Plan. Remember. REPEAT.

  1. Boundary Fatigue

Little people have zero respect for boundaries. You can kiss things like bodily autonomy and personal space goodbye, because they no longer exist. If kids were employees they would be fired for gross invasions of privacy, stalking and harrassment. They will steal your food, snatch your iPad, sit on your head and comment loudly on your bowel movements. They will insist you disrupt vital functions like eating and sleeping to meet their immediate needs for utterly trivial nonsense. And it never ends.

This is why we laugh at those lame wisecracks about being tired when the baby arrives. The unspoken punchline is that it doesn’t stop. Ever.

Welcome to parenthood.

108 thoughts on “9 Types of Fatigue That No One Tells New Parents About

  1. Yes, I thought I was tired with the newborn around the clock feeds until I realised that it was pretty easy back then because you could put the baby down in one spot and they’d still be there (pooing or screaming or something but they’d be there) when you came back. Now they move. Really, really, really fast. Whilst yelling. Yep- you got it in No.1: Wine is the answer.

    • LOLOLOL!! Thoughtload has definitely thrown me for a loop. The thinking and the planning and the juggling and the decion-making. Gah! I don’t want to parent today. Don’t make me parent.

  2. Aw Hugzy, you make it sound like so much fun!! What do I know- miss 2 woke me five times last night and just got upset because I won’t let her wake up her half brother. My reason is that he isn’t actually in the house but tired toddler is still pissed at me!

  3. You got it! I was so lucky to not get tired – I still don’t! I was born with some weird chemical that makes me averse to exhaustion, so even on a newborn sleep schedule I was fine. I totally feel for those who experience that extreme exhaustion.

    • Hahahhaha that’s awesome! We need to get you in the labratory quick-smart and bottle whatever that is. I’ll be lining up to buy it, that’s for sure 🙂 My vitamins sure aren’t doing the trick. LOL.

  4. You make my tired sound so complex and maybe slightly proud. I work damn hard for my tired, no wonder I am. We were watching Home the other day and I just lost it crying. So much so Ari (3) freaked out and started bawling to. It was an awesome release but it did emotionally fuck the little fella up for a bit. Whoops.

  5. Hahaha… so true. Dear god, do I have noise fatigue. While I’m rubbing my aching back worrying about my thoughtload, the noise is what always manages to tip me OVER THE EDGE. I know all kids are noisy but mine are THE NOISIEST. Even other parents and care-givers comment on it.

    • I swear, the two days a week I have both boys in school/preschool is bliss, and it’s mostly for that sweet silence. I don’t turn the TV on. Or the radio. I just have silence. It really is golden.

  6. oh god yes. Worry fatigue. This is something that never goes away. With every story of an abducted kid, or sick kid or anything wrong with ANY kid…you think it’s going to happen to yours. The worry never stops. :/

      • I never worried pre-motherhood like I worry now. It makes me mental – almost quite literally. To the point where I’ve said people who know they don’t want children are smart. Yes there’s the financial side of it, lifestyle side of it, but surely childless people worry far less!

  7. Hahaha yet! I have all of those! I was hopeful they all diminished as babies ages… then I read that comment from Jodi 😦 I’m also suffering feeding fatigue right now… I totally wanted to breastfeed until a year, but at 9 months I am really hitting my limit!

    • Hi-five! I was you a few years ago as well. I had this hope that it got easier. In some ways it does, but then there are other challenges that pop up to replace the ones that subside. Too bloody hard!

    • Hahahhahhha I so have talking fatigue with my eldest, who is a total chatterbox! I picked him up today and he didn’t even break a sweat on a 20 minute monologue about his day. Kid can talk. 4 WEEKS.

      • Yes! And you can’t just pretend to listen and give an obligatory mmmm response cos if you don’t give the right answer they will hang you for it! And there’s also the school run fatigue and the school lunch making fatigue (I actually yearn for school holidays, crazy I know! Just so I don’t have to constantly think about what to give them for lunch, then make the lunch and pack the bags and run them to and from school 5 days a week!) and the sports run fatigue! Man this could just go on and on and on!!! 😳😂😝

  8. TRUTH! This is the most accurate parenting post I’ve ever read.
    I’m particularly struggling with #6 and #7 at the moment. And hey, don’t forget the guilt fatigue (or does that come under “worry”?)! Waking up at 4am only to micro-analyse everything you said to your daughter the previous day, and accidentally waking up your husband because you are sobbing over the belief that you are a complete parenting failure.
    This is the stuff that dreams are made of.

    • Thank you! It is very depressingly true, and to be honest this has all taken my by complete surprise. I know it sounds silly, but I was kind of expecting it to be a lot less relentless than this!

  9. Great post Higz although I’m so glad I didn’t read it before I had kids, lol. I was suffering from serious noise fatigue yesterday – poor kids, their mum was like a volatile time bomb every time they opened their mouths!!

  10. Sounds so appealing!!! But it mustn’t be THAT bad right because then most people go and have another one?

  11. haha this is even funnier as I’ve just read it after coming from a blog where someone with a 6 week old has commented “Oh I don’t know what tiredness fuss is about. Baby is a great sleeper and does a 6.5 hour stretch at night and the broken sleep isn’t that bad” blah blah blah. Husband has mostly been home with her and DOES stuff etc.

    It is taking all my energy not to comment on the comment. And it is taking even further energy not to link to this post.

  12. “an emotional rollercoaster (with added vomit)” Yep that! You forgot ‘sound of your own voice on repeat fatigue’ you know where ask for something to be done over and over and over again until the words sound like you are speaking in another language and your eyes roll into the back of your head and your tongue hangs down by your toes. Other than that.. yep you pretty much nailed it. Who’s have kids? lol x

    • Hahahhahahhah! It’s too late to send them back, yes? And my five year old has been PUSHING the boundaries these past two weeks, which inevitably means “voice on repeat fatigue” has been a notable feature of my parenting experience lately…

    • *clinks glasses* Emotional fatigue for me today. My five year old has now discovered how to deliberately turn my three year old against me. For real. There is a deadset mutiny going on in this house.

  13. Oh, the exhaustion. The latest tantrum from our toddler occurred after I put his shoes on, but he wanted to put them on himself so he ripped them off, then had a meltdown because they wouldn’t go back on… The guy at the liquor shop now tells me when my favourite bottle of red is on sale as I walk in the shop 🙂

  14. Vigilance fatigue my god I have this EVERY SINGLE DAY. And rightly so, tonight daddy took her up for bed and he lets her run up the stairs by herself… so of course she continued running into the bathroom where she tripped at the entrance and smashed head first into the tiles! Daddy has no vigilance fatigue because it doesn’t even cross his mind. Although he did feel bad afterwards.

    • Yep, you are in peak vigilance mode at the moment. One of the hardest things I’ve found at that age where they start walking and have ZERO common sense or concept of danger or consequences!

  15. Argh! It’s the boundary and noise fatigue that get me. Stop touching me! Can you please just be a little bit quieter? I like to spend a lot of time outside just to escape 😉 The other one is illness-derived fatigue. Every cold and virus jumps ship from day care, preschool and school and heads your way so that even if you do get decent sleep and rest you’re still exhausted…. Bless them. I don’t know why we do it. It’s a form of insanity.

    • Hahahhahhaha, yes it is! Some days I have to make myself flash forward to the day we are all sitting around the table as adults and my kids are getting me beers from the fridge! As a total introvert, the constant chatter and boundaries are a tough one for me too. That will never change, unfortunately :/

  16. You nailed it Hugzy!!! 12/10!!! I know those yet to have children or choose not to have kids get sick of hearing us parents carry on about sleep deprevation BUT NOTHING CAN PREPARE YOU FOR IT!!! I even wish for perfect sleep for Christmas – that’s how much you cherish the old days of perfect uninterrupted sleep! You never realise just how much you miss it!! I always have an evil laugh when friends announce they are expecting ☺️ xx

    • Yeah, you can’t blame them really. It’s definitely one of those things you can never truly understand until you’ve experienced it. So much of this is stuff I never even thought about when I was pre-kids.

  17. Ganging-up-on-mummy fatigue is exhausting – my tornadoes are realising that working as a team of 2 to wear mummy out is more productive in trying to get what they want. Parenting is the hardest job I’ll ever have. And it’s not like I can put “expert at building Thomas tracks” on my CV in the future.

  18. Omg you are the GURU! Every fatigue covered!! In fact, you’ve covered it so well I’m considering permanently crossing my legs so this final baby can’t come out- I’m not ready for it all over again ha ha! Omg that emotional fatigue- KILLS ME. The losing your shit at them because they’re using their selective hearing, and then the resultant guilt at losing said shit after they look at you with their puppy dog eyes? Arrrgh. Your post is the best kind of contraceptive out there. Bugger sex ed lessons, just send this around to the high schools. 😛 xx

  19. I can handle most of them if I just shut my eyes and pray for death…. but vigilance and entertainment fatigue are the ones that really torture me. My child actively tries to kill himself I’m sure of it. So if I’m not watching him every second, he’s bound to be successful. And then the constant need to entertain (and feed). It never ends. EVER. And it leads to a whole new level of fatigue known as guilt because I put him in front of the TV and then feel like a miserable failure of a parent. But still. And quiet. For whole minutes at a time.

  20. I went to pay for things at the counter of Trade Secret today. I ended up handing the woman endless amounts of hangers. I have no idea why I had so many. I told her I must have picked them up off the laundry room floor thinking they went with the clothes I was buying. Except I was in a change room not a laundry room. So. T I R E D.

  21. You just couldn’t let me live in my little 8 month pregnant bubble of naivety could you?!
    I’m realising that the tiredness and the work that comes with kids never goes away, just changes and shape shifts. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on it, it changes and you are back to square one.
    Hoping all the good things and cuteness outweigh the tiredness!

  22. Oh this is gold! I’m trying to work out which one is worse… but the libra in me can’t decide and I’m too tired to think anymore tonight.
    As my mum tells me when she visits “honey you will sleep when you’re dead”. Thanks mum! xx

  23. I think my years working nights during uni prepared me for being up all night, but the noise fatigue is definitely ramping up. My little guy loves to sing at the top of his lungs while banging things together but his only lyrics so far are “ya ya ya ya ya” so I’m looking forward to a bit of variety at least.

    • Yes, I am a massive music fan and used to have it playing all the time but the days where both boys are at school/preschool I just want a silent house. I could never have imagined that!

  24. Oh gosh yes to all of these. I’m *kind of* passed Vigilance Fatigue a little bit. Like I don’t have to be constantly freaking out about choking hazards and my eldest seems to have developed at least a small sense of self preservation and respect for gravity. But toss in a little bit of anxiety and Vigilance Fatigue is the most exhausting of the lot. The never ever feeling like you can ever ‘switch off’, even for a second. Or they’ll end up in hospital… again… though fun life lesson I learned with my kids was that they’ll most seriously injure themselves within arms reach of me and their isn’t a damn thing I can do about it anyway – the most important thing is to keep a first aid kit handy and the ambulance cover up to date.

    I still have all the rest of those fatigues though. Explains why sometimes I’m like “man I’m tired” even if I’ve had a (reasonably) okay sleep.

  25. What an exhaustive list! Excuse the pun 🙂 I’m not a parent but I got tired just reading this list. High five to all the parents. I’m off to have a lie down!

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