I've done it before myself, seen a mom with a couple of toddlers and a newborn, or a set of Irish twins (or triplets) and said "oh my, you have your hands full". And they do, and I did, and probably so do you. But what no one tells us before we have kids, is that the busyness of babies and toddlers, while tiring, is nothing compared to the full-on non-stop day-in-day-out hectic schedules of school-age children.
Before I had kids I worked full-time, and I imagined life after the birth of my daughter as a calm and relaxed lifestyle, with leisurely coffee dates with friends while my baby slept in her stroller. Instead, I had a colicky baby with reflux who never stopped crying or nursing, day or night. I couldn't leave the house with her. Then when she was three I had another baby. I had two kids who tag teamed getting up at night (and still do). The only thing that got me through sometimes, was imagining the day that they would sleep through the night and go to school for a portion of the day.
Then a month before my youngest started kindergarten, I started a new 20 hour a week job (which, surprise!, is often more than 20 hours a week). I was sure that I could easily juggle work, kids, my volunteer commitments, and running a household while still pursuing a creative life. Was I ever naive. I have immense respect for full-time working mothers, and even more for those of you who are full-time working single mothers. To spout a cliche: I don't know how you do it.
You think it's going to get easier, but the busyness of babies and toddlers is multiplied and transformed into a schedule no longer of your own design as they get older and involved in more activities. Suddenly you're eating in the car while driving kids from one event to another. Or trying to cram a quick trip to the store for milk and bread between work and picking up the kids from school (because you've realized there's no bread for sandwiches for lunches the next day or milk for breakfast). There are always a million forms from school to read & sign (at least that's what it feels like). Then, just when you think you have a handle on your schedule, the random extra events pop up, like music festival, science fair, specialist appointments and field trips or work gets heavy and suddenly you find yourself trying to jam a bunch of extra stuff into limited hours. Or, as I experienced last week, both your kids come down with viruses and then one gets pink-eye just to top it off.
Honestly, I've come to believe that families with children under the age of 18 need one full-time stay-at-home parent in order for a household to run smoothly and efficiently.