“How are you today?” one of your mom friends asks as she passes you in the hallway of your sons’ elementary school. You fire back the typical, expected response. “Doing well,” you say, even though, if one were to open up the heart of you, one would see that you are not, in fact, doing well.

But it’s too complicated. Too raw. You don’t know her well enough. These are the excuses you offer yourself as you pass by, on your way back home with four-year-old twins clutching a stroller holding a 19-month-old.

The truth is, you’re incredibly lonely. Not lonely in the sense that your marriage is rocky, or your relationships with your kids aren’t healthy, or you have nobody and no one on the planet. You are lonely in one sense only: You are a parent of young children.

It’s so hard being a parent of young children.

It’s hard to find time for practically anything, especially socializing, because all your time is consumed with kids, and all your nights are consumed with making sure they get enough sleep, and all your days are consumed with signing school folders and folding clothes and tidying up a house that gets ransacked in half an hour of kids being home.

You don’t have much opportunity to make friends or cultivate friendships. Because it’s too much work to get everyone packed up in the car, and then, when you’ve finally got the little ones strapped in and ready to go, you don’t really feel like going anymore, because one fought you for half an hour on which shoes they wanted to wear, and one of the older ones is still packing up all their stuff because they want to take a thousand Pokemon cards with them even though you’ve tried to explain that the kids at your friends’ house aren’t old enough to be interested in Pokemon.

So it’s a very lonely place you find yourself, because no one has time to talk except about what’s simmering on the surface, and you get really used to exchanging pleasantries like, “Hey, let’s get together soon,” and then it never happens, because life is busy and parenting is hard and sleep looks a little more inviting at this point.

And before you know it, you realize that the only real friends you have are a 19-month-old and two four-year-olds, because the others are in school and no one ever calls you anymore, not even your sister, and you don’t go anywhere, because you’re not all that big on play dates, and who needs friends anyway? That’s what you’ll tell yourself, because you’d rather not think about what you’re missing.

This stage of parenting is really hard. It really is.

Sure, it’s a whirlwind. You’ve heard it said that the days are long, but the years are short. You’ve seen it in motion, because how is it, exactly, that he’s now nine years old? How is it, exactly, that you’re now in your thirties? How is it, exactly, that you’ve gone three months without calling your sister?

Time flies. And yet doesn’t. It’s a mystery to every parent on earth.

You feel lonely, because not only do you never get out, but no one ever talks about the hard parts of parenting. They just all make it look easy. Which makes you feel a little guilty. And probably they feel guilt too. Because, really, they’re just like you.

And let’s talk about this guilt you’re battling all the time.

You feel guilty for not spending enough time with your kids, or for spending too much time with your kids, because your partner needs you too.

You feel guilty about pursuing a career outside the home, or feel guilty about not pursing a career outside the home.

Or you feel guilty about not breastfeeding or not co-sleeping or that one time or four thousand times you yelled.

You try to achieve balance, but it’s always just out of reach. You’re exhausted. You make it to the end of the day, and that’s really saying something.

But one day, this stage of life will only be a memory.

It’s true that in your reality, as it is today, sometimes you’ll feel a bit too close to crazy.

It will seem like it’s never-ending. But it’s not.

It will feel like your kids will always be this challenging, But they won’t.

This stage of life will pass.

Today is not tomorrow and little by little, you will see how things can change. They will need you less and less, and with each new piece of independence they gain, you will gain some back too.

And when it does, you’ll only have your memories. So let’s make them good. And full. And way bigger than the loneliness we feel for a small moment in time.