As a stay-at-home mom of two small children, when I say that I need a break, I’m not talking about wanting a vacation or a treat as a reward for doing my job. Needing a break doesn’t mean that I’m seeking a respite from my responsibilities or that I want to put my feet up. It means that I need a moment to feel like a human being in the midst of a relentless life where I don’t belong to myself anymore; where I give my love and energy away, every moment of my existence, and can’t figure out how to keep any for myself.
We’re all very aware of men who don’t understand the point of giving the mother of his children a break. They go to work all day and they don’t have fun at work, do they? When they come home and their wives say, “I need a break,” they think, When do I get a break? I just worked all day and now I have to come home and give my wife a break?
The point of a break, when you’re a stay-at-home parent, isn’t fun, or excitement or relaxation, although breaks that contain those things are great, and we absolutely totally deserve them, because everybody does. When a stay-at-home parent says, “I need a break from being a mommy for an hour or two,” they aren’t trying to swindle you into doing the work of caring for the house and children so that they can get out for some fun and letting loose. Needing a break isn’t the same thing as wanting a vacation.
When you’re a father, caring for your kids doesn’t count as work. It counts as something you promised to do when you created a life. It isn’t the same thing as going to a job. Caring for your children means that you’re teaching them how to be people and giving them the chance to be happy. Taking time out of your life every single day to care for your children is absolutely vital to their growth as people. It’s not something you grace them — or your wife — with. It’s not a favor. It’s not extra work at the end of a long day. It’s part of who you are, because you’re daddy. You are absolutely required, by the fact that you made a baby, to spend all of your time and energy being a father to that baby, for the rest of your life, and that isn’t bad news. Fathering is about your kids deserving a parent who is engaged and who demonstrates that he loves them, because that is what will help them become happy, healthy, successful people.
When I get a break at the end of my day, I don’t use it to have fun. I don’t need a break so that I can unwind and have a blast being me, all on my own, finally, without the kids. I go to the gym. I go grocery shopping. I might take a walk or ride my bike. I garden. I might write or read for a while. I do yard work.
I do whatever I need to do, in that moment, to feel like I deserve to exist. I do what I need to do to feel sane and stable and capable of keeping up with the never-ending needs of my beautiful children. My breaks might allow me to think my own thoughts for a few moments. They might allow me to drive a car without being tense and distracted. I might need a break because I want to use the bathroom without someone watching me, or without worrying what might be happening downstairs and yelling, “Mommy is almost done! Are you guys OK?”
I want a break, not because I’m bored or restless or craving some fun, (although I am probably feeling those things a lot of the time.) I want a break because I put absolutely everything I have into staying at home with my kids. From the moment I open my eyes in the morning, there isn’t a single second of my day where I’m not engaged and on call. There isn’t a single moment where I am alone with my thoughts, where I’m not being touched and needed and where demands aren’t being made of me. Not a single moment. Not when I’m brushing my teeth or showering or trying to find something clean to wear. Not even in the bathroom.
As stay-at-home parents, we understand that going to work all day isn’t fun, and it isn’t easy. We get that we’re lucky to spend our days with our children. We’ve had responsibilities and stresses outside of motherhood, and we understand that life is challenging for you, and for everyone. We know that commuting to and from work and sitting in a cubical all day is not how you would choose to spend your time, if you had a choice. We know that going to work is not a personal break where you can unwind and put your feet up. We totally get that, and we love you and appreciate you for all you do to keep our families safe and cared for. We would be better at saying thank you if we had even a single ounce of energy or sanity left over at the end of the day. We love you. We do. And, thank you.
We still need a break, though.
Not because we work harder than you or deserve something you don’t. We just need a few minutes to not be on edge, working our nerves and spirits raw for the safety and happiness and health of our kids. We just need a moment to remember who we are, to not feel worried and harried and invisible. We need a second to catch our breath, to make our own choices, to try to love ourselves, for a moment. We need the opportunity to exist, as a human being with a name and thoughts and ideas; as a person who is allowed to complete a thought. We need to be allowed to drive a car and use the bathroom without being pulled away and pressured. We just need a moment, or we’re going to fall apart.
We love you, daddies. We aren’t trying to get anything over on you. We’re not trying to say that we don’t think you work hard. We aren’t trying to weasel some fun or excitement out of life, by denying you yours. We just need a second to try to remember who we are.