Why Mums AND Dads Need a Break
Times are a changing. The male/female devision of labour isn’t as clear cut as it used to be, and people are crossing the trenches on both sides. More and more mothers, through choice, economic necessity, or both, are resuming work earlier, while fathers are increasingly choosing to take a more active role in the home. The lucky parents who are still together are more frequently sharing the late nights, the ungodly 4am starts, and the household chores... and yet... it seems there is never enough hours in the day for both parents to get the rest they need.
Why Mums Need A Break
Mums need a break because parenting young babies and children never stops. It starts when you wake up, with crying, yelling, toileting, feeding, cleaning, more crying... then continues on like this all day and night.
I am a dad, and I will never know what it is like being a mum, here is a great article written by a mum. Read it if you want to get a better of idea of what mums mean when they say “I need a break”. For what it is worth, here are my dadly thoughts.
The Home Mum
Real mums (as opposed to the manicured versions who get it together for 5min for school pick-up) are running on empty 90% of the time. Being a mum doesn’t come with a job description, but it does come with this implicit warning... be the best mum you can be 100% of the time or your children will suffer. Nobody says this to them (I hope), but it’s how they feel, whether it’s 4am and they’re up with baby, or it’s 4pm and daddies arriving home from a hard day at work.
The Working Mum
Being a working mum is no walk in the park either. They have to juggle the economic necessity of working, personal ambition, sexual discrimination, and mothers guilt, whilst being utterly sleep deprived for months on end. The freedom, space, and sense of individuality that comes with going to work, is likely offset by the extra lack of time, sleep, and responsibility.
Why Dads Need a Break
Dads need a break because (for most dads) work isn’t a break. You generally can’t sleep at work, and everyone needs sleep.
The Modern Dad
The modern dad can change nappies, bottle feed expressed breast milk in the night, tie a wrap in three different ways in order to vacuum the house and do the laundry... all between the hours of 5pm and 7am. Then he goes to work. The car ride could be bliss... a spacious luxury many stay at home mothers only dream of... but he’s late for work, and if someone doesn’t give-way at the roundabout, the car is suddenly a pressure cooker.
He’s probably making mistakes at work because of the lack of sleep, and generally struggling to keep up in a job that used to be easy and fun. When he get’s home... tired and grumpy... he get’s the baby on the way through the door and the cycle repeats (By the way, mums, in this scenario, aren't getting a break either, it’s just that raising children isn’t a two person job, It’s a five person job at least).
The Traditional Dad
The traditional dad, on the other hand, might openly refuse to get up at night, and feel that jobs around the house are not his responsibility. Chances are he works 60-70hour weeks to cover expenses on a single income, and is almost never at home. He might feel ‘being a dad’ happens later, when the kids are learning to ride bikes, play sports, and buy their first car. Before you start throwing rocks, it’s good to note that some couples work better this way. Both parents know where they stand, and some mums don’t want someone else stepping on their toes around the house. However, both the traditional dad and the modern dad (and everything in between) need a break.
What Happens When Nobody Gets a Break?
She may have chosen to be a mother, and she may be doing the thing she wants more than anything in the world, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Because of her implicit need to be a great mum, she won’t take breaks lightly. So in my experience, when a mum says,” I need a break”, what she is really saying is, “I’ve been hanging on by a thread and if I don’t get a break now that thread will break”. What happens when the thread does breaks is anyones guess. I wouldn’t push it.
The dad who doesn't get a break at home might begin to linger a little longer at work. He will probably tell himself that if he is doing the right thing. If he works some overtime, he’ll be earning a bit of credit with the boss, and bringing home a little more bacon. Typically, men aren’t good at asking for breaks (or any kind of help), but they are good at taking breaks anyway. It’s this kind of avoidance that has traditionally given dads a bad rep, and it inevitably leads to conflict.
How can mums and dads give each other a break?
It’s important to be intentional, open, and willing to negotiate. I believe that it is each parents own responsibility to ask for the break he or she needs, and it is the partners responsibility to try to make it happen.
Being intentional means, having a plan, and doing the thing you know will restore your energy for parenting. It might be sleep, or it might be a run in the forest. Try not to just go and fold washing for 20minutes while your partner holds the baby. Get out there and do the thing you need.
Be open and willing to negotiate
This means explaining to your partner that you need a break, and explaining why. Then working together on when and how this can happen. You will need to compromise, and there will be times when it doesn’t work out, but the important thing is that you’re working together to try and meet the needs of the other
The Good News
As children get older, they get more independent. So gradually there is more time for both parents to get the breaks they need. I hear more dads than mums complain that it get's busier as the kids get older, but I secretly think that only applies to dads who step up to the role a little later in the game.
In the mean time, try to be kind to yourself, and kind to your partner... and take a break.
King, A. (2017). What we mean when we say we need a break. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/stay-at-home-parent_b_2558642
Author: Rowan Aish is co-founder of Parent Village, father, surfer, and family support worker.