Wednesday afternoon, I stood at the window looking outside. Every few minutes, I’d sigh. I went over to the other window and sat on the sofa looking outside some more. More sighs. I got up, got a glass of water, then returned to the windows. Minutes, minutes, minutes. My grandmother appeared from the bedroom, saw me, and said, “Estan tarde hoy (they’re late today)” before disappearing back into the bedroom to finish helping my grandfather. More minutes. More peering out windows. More shifting back and forth. She reappeared again, told me my grandfather was ready in the bedroom. One more sigh as I got myself up from the couch and headed to see him. I chatted with my grandfather while he ever so slowly buttoned his shirt, painfully moved from the chair to the bed, and even more painfully lay down. We chatted about the jewelers in Downtown I should see and suddenly sound erupted from the front of the house. My grandmother looked at knowingly, ” Ahí están.” I pretty much ran through the house and out the door. My son saw me first and ran at me screaming, “Mama!” The baby was toddling in the direction of our house, away from me so I yelled, “Wrong way!” He turned around, saw me, and his face beamed a smile of 1,000 megawatts. My daughter came shrieking back to my grandmother’s house from the porch of my house.
My kids had spent a full week with their father– the longest amount of time with him since the separation in June. I made sure they saw me that week but for the first time in I can’t tell you how long, I found myself thrilled to go home when the work day ended. I found myself anxiously waiting for my kids to come home from school. I was excited to see them, play with them, talk with them, hold them, be around them. It was a nice feeling- warm and sincere. Turns out, there really is a positive angle to every situation.
It may be something many moms fear to admit or finally admit to while keeling over with guilt but the bottom line is this: family life is work and just like any job, you need a real break. The key words here are “real break”. Husbands, if you want to enrich your family life and strengthen bonds across the board, pack your wife’s bags and send her away– on a Wednesday. It doesn’t have to be to some glorious destination spot either, just put her up in a nice, clean hotel close to her job. One of the most peaceful experiences I had was the act of waking up in the morning and being responsible for no one but myself. Then, there was the whole act of leaving work calmly and driving home calmly because I didn’t have to worry about the time frames that come with school-age children (dinner, homework, baths, bed!).
It was my experience that too many times my ex-husband and I would try and arrange some sort of break, but it was never really enough. This only made me feel more guilty because I felt I wasn’t being appreciative or maybe I was too needy. Looking back now, I just realize it was nothing more than the fact they weren’t real breaks. For example, we had arranged that Tuesday nights were my “nights off”. However, because my husband often didn’t get home until 7, I had already spent most of the night helping with homework, settling squabbles, and supervising baths. Then, he’d come home, we’d have dinner together as a family (admittedly not the most peaceful experience in the world) and I would finally get to start my night off around 8:30. Most times, I was too exhausted to go anywhere and most stores close at 9 or 9:30. So, I’d just stay home and although I could hole myself up in my bedroom for instance, the chaos was still just outside the door and some times, it’d come crashing through the door looking to cuddle.
Even if we did manage to figure out some sort of real break, it was never more than a few hours or maybe a day and it was never a break from the daily grind as those would usually end up happening on a weekend. So, when considering giving your spouse a real break, keep these things in mind:
- Aim for a break from the grind so try and schedule a couple days out of the house on a weekday.
- If the break is short, two or three days for instance, try and forbid contact. The point is separation. Yes, phone calls are great but they should be phone calls to chat with the kids and each other, not phone calls asking where the diaper cream is or what day Show and Tell is. These are things you should, and can, figure out on your own with your kids’ help.
- If the break is long (five to seven days), arrange for visits but try and schedule them out of the house. Plan a picnic in the park, a swim at the beach, or a trip to the mall (Oooh a break from the kids and shopping? You glorious man!).
- Get your mother-in-law involved. Most likely, your wife’s mother knows as well as you do (if not better!) how exhausted, frustrated, stressed out, etc. your wife is. Most likely, she’ll be thrilled with your idea. Most likely, she’d love to help! Most likely, you’ll totally score points with her. She can make a dinner for you guys one night. She can pick the kids up at school and watch them until you’re done with work. She can come over and compulsively clean your house because she’s that kind of neat freak.
- Accept that things may go wrong. You might get the kids to school late one day. Or they might go to bed a bit late one night because things got hectic. You might have to give them McDonald’s for dinner or order pizza instead of a home-cooked dinner. You might send one to school with mismatched socks. Homework might get forgotten. A diaper might get put on backwards. You might brush your teeth with diaper cream. Lunch? On the kitchen counter instead of your car. Your keys? Spent the night outside in your lock. It’s ok. The fact is that, whatever your responsibilities are, there was a learning process for those and if your wife took over them for a week she’d most likely screw some up (but you’ll never know). I can guarantee there was a learning process for what may seem to you a perfectly smooth process. I can guarantee you to this day, it’s not perfectly smooth or even smoothly perfect.
Here’s the catch: unless it’s something major, don’t tell her about the screw-ups until she’s back, the kids are asleep, and there’s plenty of wine in her glass and even more in her system. Then you can just giggle about it together endlessly and enjoy the best part of taking a break– the reunion.