I Don’t Need a Break From My Kids.
I sighed and plopped down on my mom’s plush, white couch, exhausted. Stating the obvious, she said “You look tired. Can I take the kids off your hands this weekend?” I heaved another heavy sigh as my mind raced around the question. Did I want her to take the kids? There was no doubt I was bone-tired, but something inside me was telling me to say “no.” After spending all week working two jobs, running kids around to school and activities, and trying with varying success to keep up with housework, I needed a break. But did I want a break from my kids? It quickly dawned on me that no, I did not want a break from my kids. What I wanted desperately was the opportunity to enjoy being a mother.
I thanked my mom for her offer but declined. I didn’t need a break from my kids – in fact, I found myself wishing I had more time to spend with them! What I really wanted, even craved, was a break from everything else.
As I drove home later that night with the kids all tucked into the back seat of my car, I couldn’t help but revisit that small, seemingly insignificant exchange I’d had with my mom. What did I need a break from, if not from my kids? On that dark drive home, I began to wrap my head around what being a mother is really like in these modern times. I don’t need a break from my kids – but here’s what I do need:
A break from making decisions. Although there are exceptions to the rule, in most families, the mom is the so-called “default parent.” Being the default parent means you are the keeper of schedules, the planner of meals, the knower of all the needs. It means that when someone in your family has a dilemma, you’re the one they come to for help solving it. It means that when your child wants to see a questionable movie or spend the night at a friend’s house, you’re the one that holds the answer they’re seeking. While there is no doubt a great honor in being the default or “primary” parent, the truth is that it is mentally exhausting. Being responsible for so many small, daily decisions can easily become overwhelming. Just once, I want to defer to someone else. Just once, I want to just go along for the ride. Just once, I want to watch as things unfold – rather than being the one looked to for the unfolding.
A break from the constant household chores that take my valuable time away from my children. When I finish a long day of working two jobs, all I want to do is cozy up with my kiddos and read a book, play a game, or watch a movie. But every day, I am greeted with a seemingly endless list of tasks to complete. A list which seems to only get longer, no matter how hard I work or how many tasks I check off. Laundry, dinner, dishes, sweeping, mopping, and then? Well, then it’s bedtime and the day is over. Even though I work from home and I am technically with my kids all day, never having the opportunity to slow down among the chaos of daily life with three littles to simply enjoy them has truly begun to tug at my heart. What gives?
A break from the pressure to parent the way others think I should. Motherhood is an occupation about which *everyone* seems to have an opinion. Not only that, but many seem all to eager to share theirs. The reality is that every mother, every child, and every family are unique – there is no such thing as parenting “best practices,” because every situation and every child deserve individual attention. I want a break from fearing judgment when I look at my phone at the playground after a long day. I want a break from sideways glances when my child has a tantrum after a long day. I want a break from living under a microscope. I remember a day recently, when my son wanted to ride his bike. We couldn’t find his helmet, and suddenly I found myself surrounded by people who seemed to know what was best for me and my child. On one side, glaring judgment that I would even entertain the idea of allowing him to ride without a helmet, and on the other, eye rolling at my “overprotectiveness” when I decided that no, I would not allow it. As a mother, the exhaustion of being constantly judged and analyzed can become paralyzing as you begin to feel that there is no way to come out on top.
A break from the anxiety of watching childcare costs and food prices skyrocket. Despite the growth in my career and the fact that I have held two jobs for the last four years, I, along with so many parents, am feeling the crunch of inflation. Although my income has not decreased, somehow the distance it travels seems to only get shorter and shorter. With a family of five, including two teenagers, my grocery bill now mimics my mortgage. Childcare is so unaffordable that the idea of working a traditional 9-5 schedule is virtually impossible for a mother of three. The reality is that household incomes that would have afforded a comfortable lifestyle just a few years ago now leave families living paycheck to paycheck, without a safety net. I want a break – a break from knowing that I am one incident away from financial ruin. A break from having to say “no” to so many things my children want to do. I want a break from seeing the disappointment on their faces when I tell them “we can’t afford that anymore.”
In fact, the last thing I want is a break from my children. What I need is a break from everything else.