Too Much of a Good Thing: When You Need a Break from Your Kids

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.

22 thoughts on “Too Much of a Good Thing: When You Need a Break from Your Kids

  1. Pingback: A Little Perspective, Perhaps, to Go with that Whine? | Field Notes From Fatherhood

  2. Pingback: What To Do When You're Sick of Your Kids — The Good Men Project

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  4. Great post!! I read it and laughed and laughed because that was me today as the 6-year olds whined and cried and melted down and fought and made me think “why on earth did I have more kids? I could have just stuck with the ones I had and when they went to their dad’s, could have had some peace”. I think at the end of the day, your point that you are sick of taking care of your kids is oh so valid!

    On the plus side, I can repeat the parents’ mantra to you: this too shall pass.

    And it does. It does get easier from a practical viewpoint as they get older. Our eldest are now 16, 14, 14 and 12 and they are independent, capable young folk. And there’s a whole pile of different issues which piss us off! On the plus side, they’ve mostly stopped whining…

    Good luck with your week of solo parenting!

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    • Thanks, FMNZ. Sometimes when the kids are getting particularly deeply under our skin I turn to my wife and say, “Let’s not have kids.” But that horse is out of the barn.
      Honestly, I love spending time with them, and it does get easier as they get older. There are just those days, though…. My biggest problem is dealing with the utterly irrational, irascible nature of a toddler. The older ones you can reason with, but when they’re toddlers there’s just often no getting through to them that the juice in their glass is the same as the juice in this glass, so they don’t NEED to have the juice in this glass. Which usually results in wailing.
      I have a zero tolerance policy for whining, and our youngest is finally realizing that it gets him nowhere – actually it frequently gets him precisely the opposite of what he wants. Until he can say it in a normal voice, it’s not gonna happen.
      Thanks for your comments, as always!

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    • Thanks, Beth. Yup, I’m sure they do, but not many spew it on the electronic page for all the internet to see. Getting it out is therapeutic, though, and if I’m able to elicit a laugh along the way so much the better. Thanks again for taking the time to read the blog.

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      • Hahahaha that is very true but maybe more parents need some type of outlet or maybe they just need to read yours so they can get a good laugh and not feel guilty. Either way I shared your post, I felt it was share worthy! Hope you get a break soon mine are going to grandmas for the weekend and I am secretly thinking that the weekend can’t come soon enough 🙂

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  5. “Paternal Burnout”…I have only been a stay-at-home daddy and I have already reached that point. Well, I say that now but in another year I am sure I will still consider this the honeymoon period. Good luck next week.

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    • Thanks, familynomadic. My consolation is that I’ve gone bald so the stress can’t make me go gray. The burnout comes and goes, and for me anyway, never lasts long. Good luck yourself! Keep laughing, my good man.

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  6. Divorce has it’s hidden benefits. My ex and I strived to create a healthy co parenting relationship when we split, and it has paid off in every way: natural breaks from parenting, the opportunity to date and re marry with date night etc, as well as spending time together as extended family. I wouldn’t wish divorce on my worst enemy as it is so painful, but I can honestly say that the friends with kids who felt so bad for me during the process…. are now a bit envious of the way our family is organized as we have the gift of time.

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    • Well, I don’t think divorce is in the cards for me, but I understand what you’re saying. We have some friends who are amicably divorced and they do seem to cherish the free time and freedom it’s given them. I’ll pass it by the wife, anyway. Thanks for your comments!

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      • Matt – My comment came across wrong. Apologies. In no way did I mean to recommend divorce. Just stating that we now have time (despite having young twins), due to a positive co parenting relationship which can be good and needed. Clearly I should never message anything while teaching. 🙂

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  7. The two year old. Yes! I’ve been solo parenting for 7 weeks straight (with a few more to go), and have spent just 4 hours away from him in the past 2.5. Just today I told myself to be thankful that I’m enduring it with electricity and hot water. It isn’t working. Of course it doesn’t mean I love him less, we just all need a break sometimes!

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    • Oh, man, 7 weeks of solo mommy duty with no end in sight! Makes me feel like a whiny weakling. Although I do know several other fathers who begin to sweat when they’re left alone with the kids for more than a couple of hours. And yes, we do all need a break. After your marathon stint I think your break should be about two weeks long and take place on a sunny beach. Keep it up, and keep laughing!

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    • Jugglers of chainsaws. And you’re quite welcome for the mention. Thank YOU in fact, for having a brain and using it to write with intelligence. A writer I know once said that.

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      • Sometimes I get sloppy and write as if I’m speaking. And other times I write to write. I guess there’s room for both depending on the subject matter. I hope one day the blog helps me graduate to other forms of writing. Bits and pieces of a novel float around in my head, but I’ve yet to glue them together. Constructive criticism welcome, too, by the way.

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