I was sitting across from my therapist, a dark-haired woman in her mid-30s. I’d been seeing her for about a year, mostly because of stress. I’d been having a difficult time managing being a married hands-on father of three, while also working two jobs, so on the insistence of my wife, I started seeking some professional help.
The therapist and I were discussing work and family — the usual. I sounded more stressed than usual (it was a particularly stressful time of year at my full-time job), and she said, “Sounds like you need a night off.”
I laughed when she said that. I think most parents with three children under the age of 10 would. Between work obligations, my children’s sports, and other extracurricular activities, fighting our children to do homework and then get to bed, cleaning the house after they are asleep, taking care of the yard on the weekends, helping out our community and our church, there really isn’t much time for a night off.
I think a lot of parents fall into this trap. You get up, and you go, and you go, and devote all your time and effort, every little bit of it to your children, and your job, and your community, and by the end of the day, there isn’t much left over for yourself. And you know what, that’s fine for a few days, or weeks, or months even, but after years of getting up, and doing, and doing, for everyone but yourself, it starts to wear you down.
This was the exact reason I was meeting with a therapist.
“Why are you laughing?” she asked.
“Because I just don’t see how it’s possible,” I said. “We are far too busy.”
“Surely you and your wife can find time to give each other some time off. Just a couple hours each. You need to schedule it, same as you do anything else in your life. It’s possible. Trust me.”
I didn’t trust her. Not on this one, but I went home, and discussed it with my wife anyway.
Mel laughed, same as I did when the therapist suggested a night off.
But the more we discussed it. The more we threw around the idea, the more we started to narrow down a couple pockets of time. Just a few hours twice a week that I could watch the kids while Mel does something she enjoys, and she would do the same for me.
Mel took Thursday nights so she could attend a church activity once a month. The other nights of the week, she didn’t know what she’d do. “It’s been so long since I’ve had free time, I’m going to have to find a hobby,” she said.
The sad reality is, I think most mothers feel this way. And when Mel told me that, I felt horrible. I felt like I should have been giving her time off way before now. And it’s not to say that she didn’t get time off. It just wasn’t consistent. Both of us were that way. We’d gotten so caught up in raising our family that we didn’t know what to do with time outside the home.
I enjoy cycling, so I picked Sunday afternoon so I could go for a ride. Come winter, I had no idea how I’d spend the time, but you can bet I’ll figure it out.
We came up with a few ground rules to make sure we enjoyed our time without getting sucked back into familial chores and tasks. For example: Whatever we do, it has to be outside the house. And we had to take the time, regardless. No putting it off. And if something comes up, like I have to work late on Thursday for some reason, or we have family in town on a Sunday afternoon, we find another day that works during the week.
Mel and I have been giving each other time off for almost two months now. And I must say that it’s given me something to look forward to each week. Not that I don’t have good things in my life. I absolutely do. I love my wife. And I adore my children. But I’d forgotten what it felt like to love myself.
Each Sunday, after church, I head out for a ride. Mel watches the kids. My mood is better at home and at work. And when I get stressed, I think about Sunday afternoon and find myself feeling more optimistic.
Mel, she seems to feel the same way. She’s joined a book club that meets once a month. She’s also talking about joining a fitness class at the local pool. Sometimes she leaves the house, finds a quiet place without children tugging at her, and asking her, and needing her, and wanting her, and she reads a book. She always comes back refreshed later that evening just after I’ve gotten the kids to bed.
And I know, many of you reading this are probably just like I was when my therapist suggested that we schedule nights off. Laughing, throwing your hands up in the air, shaking your head, and generally listing all the reasons you can’t possibly have an hour to yourself. But ultimately, that’s what it took. It took Mel and I scheduling our free time just like we scheduled everything else in our lives. We didn’t leave it to chance. We stopped waiting for an opportunity to randomly come along to jump on it. We scheduled it. We made it a priority, and thus far it’s been wonderful for all of us.
If you can do it, if you can sit down with your spouse and find two small pockets of time, just a couple hours each week, so that both of you can get out and feel human again, I highly recommend it. If you can’t, I get it. I know your struggle. But if you actually schedule it, if you make time to yourself as important as anything else, you will find that when you and your partner are together, you are happier, less stressed. You both have something to look forward to during the week, and you will love each other more because your spouse gave you the one thing that all parents want more than anything else in the world: a little alone time.