An amazing thing happened in January. My mother-in-law, who I would trust with my life, pulled me aside and asked, “We would really like to have the kids stay with us in New Jersey for a week this summer. We could put them in the summer camp I run, and we’d take care of everything. Would that be ok?”
I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, and before she could blink, I shouted out an enthusiastic “YES!”
As the time for the handoff approached, I became more and more nervous about being so far away from the kids, who are only four and six years old. How would my kids handle the distance? Would they miss me? What if they got injured? Couldn’t sleep? What if they were too much for my in-laws to handle? Most of these fears were unfounded, but I still felt uneasy.
My kids, on the other hand, were ecstatic. I should have followed their lead. We talked about these plans for months, in detail, so the kids would feel prepared and know what to expect.
The weekend came, and I flew the kids across the country to my husband’s family. I was nervous all weekend, pulling my MIL aside to review random things with her: My son’s inhaler and allergy meds. Their bathing suits for camp. Which stuffed animals they absolutely had to have to sleep. My patient MIL, bless her heart, humored me and at least pretended to listen to my incessant and unneeded instructions.
The moment came for me to leave, and I had this huge ball in my stomach. I tried so hard not to cry in front of my kids, but I couldn’t help it. I was going to miss them so much! Tears streaming down my cheeks, I kissed them a thousand times and hugged them tightly. My kids, meanwhile, barely noticed me leave they were so excited about the week with their grandparents.
I cried all the way to the airport. Red, blotchy, snotty tears that my FIL politely ignored. Once I was through security, however, I bought a book and had time to read the whole thing, cover to cover. I can’t remember the last time I had time for that! Traveling without the kids was suddenly glorious.
My husband picked me up at the airport ecstatic that we were alone for the week. We went home and made a nice dinner. Together. With music playing in the background, we enjoyed a glass of wine on the deck. We had entire conversations without being interrupted once. We even slept peacefully through the night!
The next day, we carpooled in to work, laughing and talking the whole way. I literally skipped down the hallway into my office. I finished up all of my work before leaving the office because I wasn’t racing to pick up the kids. My husband and I met up for drinks afterward, in the hippest part of town. We took our time, had meaningful conversation while savoring the food and wine, and even splurged on dessert because we knew we didn’t have to pay a babysitter!
The rest of the week continued on in much the same way, and I could feel myself less and less stressed with each passing day. My newfound freedom was palpable. I could do whatever I wanted! Whenever I wanted!
I kept waiting for that pit in my stomach to return, the tears of sadness to fall, a pining for my kids being so far away. If I’m being totally honest, those feelings never really came. I was too busy relishing my freedom!
It felt so empowering to re-experience myself without the burden of motherhood weighing me down.
And that sentiment made me realize I was burnt out on parenting.
It’s not that I didn’t miss my kids. I longed to see my daughter’s goofy grin and hear my son’s melodic laugh. I missed their stories and snuggles, their playing together, their creative games and crafts.
What I didn’t miss was all the managing. The frequent reminders, directives, and constant need to be On Top Of All Things. I didn’t miss feeling responsible for them 24/7. Needing to know where they were and what they were doing every second of the day. Overseeing mealtimes, baths, bedtimes, and what they needed to bring to camp. Supervising all the schedules, timelines, and of course all the fighting.
I was free, for a week, from the drudgery of motherhood, and it was more than I could have ever hoped for.
I learned a lot that week.
I realized how much I missed my husband. How important it is to make eye contact with him, to really listen to him, and to enjoy his undivided attention.
I learned that I needed to give myself breaks from parenting. To feel less burdened as the Family Manager by delegating more and tagging out for a minute when feeling overwhelmed.
I learned that parenting burnout has nothing to do with how much I love my kids. In fact, the things I love most about them- the smiles and giggles and creativity and innocence- are what sustains me.
The kids are back home now, and we have settled into our normal routine, with the key difference that I am trying to pass on some of the scheduling and commitments so we can enjoy all the fun we have together as a family. I want to prioritize those moments and let the mundane demands of motherhood take a back seat, to avoid feeling burned out and have more energy to embrace the best parts of my life.