On any given day, I face a to-do list at least 20 items long. From making my 4-year-old breakfast to pumping for our 4-month-old so he can eat while I'm at work, to taking my son to t-ball and grocery shopping for the week, I'm spending, on average, 19 hours a day at either my job or at home, running from place to place and doing this thing or that thing so I can meet the overwhelming and time-consuming responsibilities that come with being a working mom. So when well-intentioned people tell me to "take a break" I want to, for lack of a better imagination or, let's face it, option, scream. When you're a mom, "taking a break" is much harder than it sounds... if it's even possible at all.
It's not like I've never been able to take a break from parenting in the four years I've been a mom, because I have. I've enjoyed the very rare massage, and I've been able to get away with my girlfriends for a weekend. I've relished the occasional solo-dinner and a movie, and when the planets align I can even take an hour or two in the morning to recharge before the rest of my family wakes up and chaos ensues. But every single "break" I've been able to enjoy as a mom has been facilitated by, you guessed it: me. It has always required extra work on my part, either before or after I've been able to relax, which kind of negates the whole "taking a break" thing in the first place, right?
A 2015 survey published by the Working Mother Research Institute found that 79 percent of working moms are also responsible for doing the laundry. The same survey found that moms are twice as likely to handle the cooking than dads are, and, to no one's surprise, working moms are more likely to handle the bulk of the childcare. So when you tell us working moms to "take a break" you're also acknowleding — willingly or not — that the chores and childcare and everything else we're doing outside of our paying jobs will need to either be handled by someone else, or will take a hit. A hit that, let's face it, we will probably have to take and account for once we're back from our "break."
Which is why I, honestly, don't want to take breaks all that often. When I come back from a weekend away — or sometimes even an hour at the gym — the living room is a disaster, there's an inexplicable pile-up of dishes in the sink, and the floor of my son's room is covered with toys. What was a moment of zen is almost immediately followed by more work than I would have shouldered if I had foregone that break, so why bother? I would rather stay on top of things than fall behind in the name of "self-care," because you know what isn't great for my self-care? Extra work.
Which is to say nothing of my inability to completely turn my mom brain off, too. When I'm away from my babies, I'm still thinking about my babies. Are they staying on their sleep schedules? Is my 4-year-old eating a balanced meal? Did I pump enough milk for the baby? Is my partner OK handling it all without me, or is he growing increasingly more frustrated by the minute? Is he OK giving the baby a bath? Am I unable to completely let go because I'm still suffering from postpartum anxiety?
See where this leads?
... be engaged and supportive and take on a fair share of the parenting responsibilities so we don't get burnt out to the point a break is absolutely necessary in the first place.
When us moms are told over and over and over again by every medium known to man that absolutely everything parenting or family-related is our responsibility, and if we have partners and they do "help" they're merely "babysitting," it's difficult for us to step back and let our parenting partners take full control. You know, like a parent can and should. An estimated 10 percent of new moms will struggle with postpartum anxiety, and 5 percent will struggle with postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to Postpartum Support International. Saying "take a break" not only means more physical work for these moms, but more than likely means additional mental strain and stress, too. We're often labeled as the primary caregivers, and that label has carved out a permanent space in our minds where our children, our home, and our parenting partners reside... always. Taking a break doesn't make that space any smaller, and it doesn't naturally quiet the voices residing in that space either. If I can manage to find an hour for a full-body massage, I will undoubtably spend that hour thinking about the baby's upcoming pediatrician appointment, my son's t-ball practice and the snacks we have to bring, and what meals I can make for the rest of the week that will be quick, easy, and nutritious.
So instead of telling us moms to "take a break," facilitate a break. Do the housework ahead of time, and maintain that work while we're gone so we don't have to play catchup when we return. Set up an appointment for a massage or make that dinner reservation for us so it's one less thing we have to worry about; one less thing we have to spend emotional labor on. Assuage our fears and anxieties about leaving our babies by consistently being an active parenting partner or support person, proving your abilities day in and day out. Don't joke about "babysitting" or complain about being the primary caregiver while we're away, because even if you're kidding around those seeds of self-doubt and guilt are very real and your haphazard comments are capable of making that seed grow.
Most importantly, be engaged and supportive and take on a fair share of the parenting responsibilities so we don't get burnt out to the point a break is absolutely necessary in the first place. Everyone deserves a break from the hard work of raising a child, to be sure, but if you're in this parenting game with us then that break will feel less like a requirement and more like a nonessential treat.