I think part of what's going on from my end is I'm settling into the realization that mothering, especially mothering a larger family where new babies arrive regularly, is a marathon. It's not a sprint (I really didn't need to try to cram catechism questions and answers into Bella's mind at age 9 months); it's not an 8K (all three of my children really don't need to learn to swim this summer in 4 weeks if it's going to make us all miserable); it would maybe be a half marathon if we had a nanny and only one child. But I'm going to be run ragged by children for many years--physically exhausted with little ones, then, if understand correctly how this works, the mental and emotional work gets heavier as they age.
I've put into place some essential sanity savers like daily exercise outside before the family wakes up, sacraments and prayer according to a schedule, Diet Dr. Pepper (when the nutrasweet kills me, I can honestly say that it made my life happier during the time I lived), and predictable home routines like laundry and grocery shopping.
But I'm getting the sense that a regular weekly break is an essential component of pacing myself for the marathon. Not a "break" to run errands or clean house kid-free, but a break to do something I choose. I think I know some of the activities that truly recharge me and make me feel free. Otherwise, as the builders have been discussing among ourselves, we really can start to feel trapped and entangled and become more and more frayed until simple cheerfulness requires more energy than we can muster. We don't get a break or have time away ever. I can't complete a thought in my own mind without being interrupted. When I reflect on it like this, hiring regular help seems obvious.
Then again, there are factors that weigh against hiring a babysitter. Where we live, babysitters, even teenagers (we're in a fancy school district where the teens constantly weigh the value of their Ivy-League-bound time), are absurdly expensive, people pay $20/hour for three kids, never less than $15. I feel so guilty about paying that it's hard to enjoy the time out. I keep wondering whether I'm really getting my money's worth out of every paid minute. Also, in the past, I've felt like I had to clean up our apartment and have the kids totally ready for a sitter to arrive, so the whole day became stressful "getting ready" for the sitter. Third, one of my children hasn't outgrown freaking out when I leave, particularly when I leave them with a babysitter. I hate to force this child to have to cope with my departure when it's just for a break for me. Fourth, I'm controlling, and it's difficult for me to give someone else charge over my kids. I don't want to see bad behaviors learned on someone else's watch, especially someone I'm paying.
One other thing, AWOL Mommy made a great point recently in favor of hiring a sitter... it's a hard situation when we're relying on tag-team parenting, like as soon as our husband walks in the door we leave the kids and dash off to take care of responsibilities or even to take a quick break for ourselves. Problems with this are: (1) it can make me resentful that I have to ask for a short amount of time off as a favor, even when my husband gives it to me willingly and (2) more importantly, it takes the place of time that we should be spending together as a couple. Paid help during the week really seems best for the family, because it doesn't cut into valuable time with our husbands, it's simply a break for us from our daily "workday" responsibilities.
How do you pace yourself for the long race ahead, and do sitters fall somewhere in your strategy?