Why I Was Furious When My Husband Surprised Me With A Break From The Kids
Even though I really needed one.
I thought I wanted the surprise
I've heard the stories of women praising their husbands for surprising them with a day off, taking the kids out and giving their wives a much-deserved break. It's like that joke about what mothers really want on Mother's Day: a day to not be a mother, to do whatever they want without the kids.
When I hear these stories, I can sense my blood turn green as envy courses through my veins. This type of surprise sounds like what I need, want and deserve.
How come my husband hadn't done that for me yet?
2 against 1 is a losing battle
My husband's a realtor so that means there are evenings and weekends where I'm with the kids by myself for several hours while he does showings, open houses, inspections, client meetings etc.
Our kids are under 5 so it's 2 against 1 with odds completely against my favour. If one isn't whining, the other is crying; if one isn't hungry, the other is trying to grab something they shouldn't. It's a nonstop game of hot potato where I'm burning my hands passing it to myself and it only gets hotter the longer I play. I'm merely trying to survive until my husband comes home.
During these times, I have a recurring battle that happens in my head.
Do I want to survive taking the easy road or the hard road?
The easy road means screen time, rotating between watching YouTube and playing games on the iPad while I try and get a workout in.
The hard road means no screen time, going out for a walk, being present while they play, heading to the playground, to the park, to the mall, to a place that requires me to dress them, put them in and take them out of their car seats and stroller while making sure they don't run off and touch things they shouldn't. Oh, and of course, making sure they've used the potty beforehand and I've packed appropriate snacks and water.
Making this decision doesn't come lightly for me because regardless of which road I choose, guilt inevitably rips me apart.
If I choose the easy road, I feel guilty for not doing my best as a mother. My kids aren't getting quality time with me. I am letting the screen babysit when I could be spending this precious time with my children while they are still young. You know, they grow up fast right? And if I don't stop and pay attention, I'll miss the whole show.
If I choose the hard road, I get stressed, overwhelmed and anxious the entire time. I feel guilty for not doing the best for myself. Prioritizing my mental health and learning to not be so hard on myself are a significant part of my recovery from perfectionism. I know being a supermom doesn't mean I'm a good mom if I'm sacrificing my emotional well-being. I don't just want to talk the talk. I want to walk the walk.
When his surprise backfires
One time when my husband was out, he got stuck in traffic and his client was late. Instead of spending a couple of hours alone with the kids, it turned into 5 hours. I did the dance between the hard and easy road but didn't end up going out for the walk that I had intended.
There was a small window of opportunity when it wasn't raining and the kids were fed, clean and behaving. However, I missed it and the guilt monster's claws latched onto my back, digging their way to my heart as we rotated back to YouTube.
When my husband comes home, without even changing his clothes, he immediately tells me,
"Go get dressed and get out. Do what you need to do. I'll take it from here."
I'm furious. I don't know why but my blood is boiling so hard I can't hear myself think. I'm confused about my reaction.
He's surprising me. He's doing what I've heard all these other moms praise their husbands for. He's giving me a break. He knows I deserve it. He wants to help me. He wants to make me feel better. He appreciates everything I do.
Then why am I angry?
I didn't want a break
I felt like a terrible mother for giving my kids hours of screen time instead of doing something fun with them. I couldn't just leave things where they were when I felt like I did a bad job; the guilt had convinced me that I didn't deserve a break. I wanted to make it up to them, fix things, turn off the screens, take them for a walk, build a fort, play a game, salvage my inadequacies and redeem myself as a mother that day.
But I knew I was beyond burnt out, exhausted every ounce of patience left inside me and doing anything more for my kids would destroy my mental health. I wasn't in any shape to care for another person when I couldn't care for myself.
If it wasn't a break that I wanted, what was it?
I wanted freedom
Growing up, one of the most common fights my parents had involved my mom going out without telling my dad specifically where she was going and when she was coming back. He would pace around the house, grunting Cantonese curse words under his breath while he waited for her to come home.
When she entered the door, the fight would begin. My mom would get defensive, making up excuses about losing track of time or lying about when her appointment was; my dad would lecture her about responsibilities as a wife and mother, calling her selfish as he was worried about her.
This would happen time and time again. Even to do this day, both retired empty nesters with 5 grandkids under their belt, my mom continues to leave without notice and my dad still gives her an earful.
I always sided with my dad as I also felt my mom was being irresponsible and inconsiderate. However, after that day, now I understand why my mom did what she did. She wanted freedom.
The one thing that I miss the most about my life before having kids is the ability to pick up and go. Freedom.
The joy of leaving on your own time is what I crave as a mother. I don't want scheduled self-care. I don't want to coordinate with a friend to see when we can hang out, sometimes months in advance. I don't want to plan, organize, find time to do the things I want to do. I just want to do them when I want to do them, in the spur of the moment, impulsively. No planning. No thinking ahead. Not taking into consideration a bunch of little people's schedules.
When my husband surprised me with a break, it meant I wasn't in control of my time, highlighting my loss of freedom as I wasn't able to initiate those breaks myself. I don't like to be told what to do and when to do something. True freedom is when I can take off at a moment's notice, on my own accord, not when it is dictated by someone else.
I didn't want his permission to take a break. I wanted the comfort of leaving without having to worry. I wanted to just go without thinking, without giving a handover, without telling him exactly what I'm doing, where I'm going or when I'll be back.
But I didn't want to fight like my parents
I know if I ever left without letting him know, he would be furious, repeating the same fight my parents had for years. I wanted to break a generational curse.
So when I was able to gather my thoughts and process my feelings, I shared this with my husband, explaining the internal battle that plays in my head every time I am with the kids by myself, something he doesn't struggle with as a parent (along with the other invisible work that mothers do). I reassured him that although his gesture was sweet and I appreciated his good intentions, it's not helpful for me.
So he asks me,
"What can I do to help instead?
And we agreed that whenever he comes home and if I feel like leaving, I can just go, no questions asked. The difference between our generation and my parents' is that we now have a little device we keep in our pockets that allows us to keep each other posted at all times.
The following day, as I could feel myself burning out, I told my husband,
"I'm going for a walk. I'll have my phone on me."
So Readers, has your partner ever surprised you with a break? How did you react?