I had a baby, I blinked, and now he is 1. How did that happen? Having children seems to speed up the passage of time in a way that I didn’t experience before. My days, weeks, and months are completely occupied by a thousand little tasks needed to help my little ones muddle through their worlds. Days and nights blur into one. It takes months to respond to friendly emails and I’m surprised when I realise that I haven’t spoken to people I really like for over a year. My time is gobbled up into the parenting vortex.
Some psychologists spend their careers studying time perception and their research offers some clues as to why parenting inhales time. It is a common misconception that time seems to speed up dramatically when you get older. Actually research has shown that across countries and age groups, everyone seems to perceive the passage of time at a similar rate. The thing that makes time speed up is pressure, when you feel like you are under pressure time goes more quickly. Adding children to the mix of even the most vanilla of lives can create pressure. Sleep deprivation, teething, vaccinations, homework, exams, are all little units of pressure which if added to an already high-pressured existence can swirl up into a parenting vortex.
Routine also makes time flow away. And having children obliges you into a routine. Even if you don’t really think of yourselves as routine-people the chances are your children are – they probably wake and sleep at similar times and intervals, they probably get hungry, need a new nappy, go to nursery, or school, or dance class at a similar time. As free-spirited as you once were, once children arrive, it is likely that your life follows a new pattern. And the presence of this routine hurries time along because you are on autopilot.
It is a funny irony however, that some days seem to go on forever with bedtime staggering towards us at a snail’s pace, whilst months and years fly by. Science points to an explanation for that too. When we actively concentrate on something it appears to take longer. So, when you are finding your way to a new place the journey feels like it is taking longer than your return home. It is because you are giving that your full attention. When you have a busy, maybe even chaotic, toddler in the house they are constantly drawing your attention, doing new things that require you to watch them, get them, help them. If you have ever seen a video of someone falling backwards it appears to be happening in slow motion. Of course it is not really happening slowly, just that time slows down when you actively pay attention. And if you are in a state of having to pay attention, you are probably not doing much else, which is why it can feel like the day has gone on forever but you still didn’t get anything done.
So, time really does speed up and slow down when you have children. I guess the trick is, if there is a trick, to try to use that info to your advantage. The best bit of advice my husband and I were given on our wedding day was to find each other every half-hour for a little kiss and to look around the room. Extra kisses are always good but choosing to stop and absorb the experience made everything more salient. So I wonder if that is something we can do with parenthood, actively decide to stop once or twice a day at a particular time and look around and breathe it all in. The good and the bad, and imagine ourselves as little old ladies basking in the memories of this precious time. Because this stage will be gone in a flash!
Keep up the good work mums. You are awesome and we appreciate you!! xxx