Too Much of a Good Thing: When Do You Need a Break From Your Kids?

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Parental burnout can be lessened by a strong network, an understanding spouse, and some time alone

Sometimes I get sick of my kids. There, I said it. Wanna take a swing at me? Go ahead, I can take it. I stand behind my statement, and you know why? I bet you get sick of your kids too, it’s just that a lot of people won’t admit it.

I’m writing this now because I’ve recently been spending too much time with my children. Too much time? Wow, that’s a luxury that most people can’t afford, a privilege that many would envy. And they should. Spending time with your kids is great.

But too much time, just like anything prefaced by ‘too much,’ is a bad thing. It drains your energy, your patience, your creativity. It makes you, when you’re trying to cook dinner and get a snack on the table and make the chocolate milk which they’ve asked for thirty times in the last twenty seconds and your son is saying “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, look at this, Daddy look at this – the new Hero Factory 3.0 is different than the 2.0 and the first series but the, Daddy look, look Daddy, it has different armor, and look Daddy, can I have some chocolate milk and a snack?” want to tell him, “You know what, I don’t give a shit about Hero Factory.” Because you don’t. You never say that – you smile and nod and ask pertinent questions – but you just don’t care. It bores you. What you really want is to grab a book and a cup of tea and lock the bedroom door and wish them the best of luck, but just go away, goddamnit.

I say I’ve been with my kids too much of late. Well, they were off a week of school, so nine days total there, three of which I took them away to a cabin in the forest to give my wife a chance to get some important work done. She hasn’t been around much. Not by choice, but by necessity, though the result is the same. Then three days back at school, followed by a rainy four-day weekend (wife largely absent), extended to five because our oldest was sick. Too much time. Next Monday my wife is off to Washington for a full week – seven days just me and the boys, seven days of getting up and out in the morning, seven relentless days of breakfasts, snacks, discipline, dinners, crafts, crying, stories, bedtimes. Too much time.

It’s not that I want to go have a blow-out night with my friends, hit the strip clubs (I’ve actually never been, and don’t intend to break my perfect record) or relive the long lost freedom of my youth, I just want 24-48 consecutive hours when I’m not settling petty squabbles or rushing to wipe noses or soothe minor injuries, when I’m not negotiating how much of their vegetables they have to eat to get dessert or telling them that no, they can’t have some chocolate or watch a video, when I don’t have to watch our two year-old son throw himself to the floor and explode into heaving sobs because I can’t jump on the bed with him at that moment since I’m cooking dinner and fixing a snack and making you chocolate milk, goddamnit!

The fact is, you’re generally a better parent, heck, a better person, when you’ve had some time away for yourself. My wife comes home from the office and exhibits an energy and enthusiasm that I can, by that time, no longer muster. It makes me feel inadequate, somehow, but I just don’t have it in me at that point. I’m sick of them. Well, no, that might not be entirely accurate. I’m sick of taking care of them, of parenting them. And there’s some degree of guilt involved in that. There’s a lot of pressure to be engaged with your children, to read to them and play mind-enriching games and further their personal and intellectual development. Which is all well and good, and I spend a good deal of time doing just these things, but that stuff is tiring, and sometimes tiresome.

I remember my wife calling me one afternoon when our oldest was just a few months old and I was still teaching. When I saw her number on the phone I stepped outside of the cafe where I was drinking a beer and marking student papers, and told her that, unfortunately, I was still at school and would be home in about an hour. What I didn’t know was that she was out with our son. What I didn’t know was that, at that very moment, she could see me.

I apologized for the little lie, but explained that I had a lot of work to do and was worried that if I told her that I would rather get it done than run home to be with our infant son she’d be angry. She told me I was right – she wouldn’t understand why I didn’t want to rush home. I said, “See?” (Which didn’t help my case in the least.) I wasn’t tired of the little bugger, I just had more pressing things to do.

These days, she’s the one who insists I get away for some time alone. Problem is, she travels for work a lot and oftentimes there’s just no opportunity to set off by myself. Or she’s having a busy period at work, as has been the case these last two weeks. Then I’m stuck with the kids on solo daddy duty, walking the parental tightrope without a safety net. And the safety net, if you’ve got access to one, is what’s essential.

Recently I read a great article entitled “My Family Doubles as a Life Raft,” about how, during the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, one woman’s extended family was what helped them through it. If you don’t have the life raft of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and obligingly babysitting cousins, things are a lot harder. And you’re more prone to parental burnout.

I’ve got it. I’m sick of taking care of my kids. And my wife is leaving for a week. Will it be okay? Will we all survive the storm? Of course. Would I rather not have to ride it out alone? Of course. But my own small trials are ridiculous, reprehensibly self-pitying even, compared to what the citizens of the east coast of the US are continuing to deal with.

Is it normal to be sick of taking care of your kids? I think so. Repeating yourself a gazillion times a day is tedious, as are feigning interest in Lego creations, wiping their noses and bums, battling with them over, let’s face it, stupid shit, threading arms and legs into clothes as they squirmingly resist, getting them to brush their teeth and wash their hands before meals and allow you to wash their greasy, food-streaked hair in the bath. It’s a pain in the ass, and if you say otherwise chances are you’re delusional. But then…

But then your young son curls up on your chest and tells you he loves you. Your son and you share a joke, or cuddle up for a story, or split a cup of tea and a cookie. You get down on your knees and build one of those Hero Factory creations with him. And you like it, and it’s fun. And there’s a shining moment when everything works and everyone is happy and…then someone gets poked in the eye, your toddler pisses his pajamas as he shatters a glass full of apple juice on the floor, one boy wails and the other one whines, and…nope, there’s no getting around it – I’m sick of my fucking kids.

—originally appeared at Field Notes from Fatherhood

—photo by Sudhamshu/Flickr

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About Matthew Treadwell

Matt Treadwell is a freelance writer, editor, and part-time stay-at-home dad. He and his family have been living in Budapest, Hungary for the past ten years, after living and working in Italy, Korea, Mexico, Japan, and England. Soon, though, they'll be packing up shop and moving to Barcelona.

An avid gardener, birdwatcher, hiker, diver, and nature buff, most weekends find Matt and his family either in the garden or in the forest, where he passes his passion for the natural world on to his two young sons. Matt also writes a successful blog called Field Notes from Fatherhood which explores the ins, outs, ups and downs of parenthood, marriage, and travel with kids.

Comments

  1. Beautiful essay! I just spent the day with my 9 year old niece (who is sick with a sore throat and cough)….her parents are both busy working, so I blew off a boring conference to spend one on one time with her: getting her medication and candy at the local pharmacy, going to the local zoo (because it was too warm and spectacular to stay inside today), buying soft ice cream with sprinkles, and going to our favorite bookstore in town to get the latest Moshi Monsters book….Every parent needs a break…her mom has been known to sneak away on yoga retreats hours away from here while I tended to her daughter with the flu…and it’s okay…we all have our breaking points…better to ask for help sooner rather than later….!

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