“Why are parents always trying to get away from their kids?” someone once asked me.
It was not a dumb question. I have pondered the same myself. Why is it that I feel like my husband and I wish at least once a weekend that we could have a couple of days – heck, a couple of hours – for the two of us together? We spent our pre-parenting days looking forward to having children only to find ourselves wishing for a few precious hours away from them.
But I know why.
“It’s because we’re tired,” I said, with a shrug. Not just any shrug either, but the glib ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ that I want to use in lieu of pretty much every reaction I have nowadays.
“But why are you so tired?”
Ah, the immortal question of the child-free to the childed: why? What is it about this existence that you chose (my favorite comeback from those asking) that you simply must escape?
All right, look, if you’re a parent – or a caregiver of any sort really – you know the kind of tired that I’m talking about. The eternal ever-present exhaustion of existence as someone who is responsible for lives outside of your own.
It’s not physical, though many days you feel it in your bones.
It’s not emotional, though at times the triumphs and the tests probed the edges of your limits.
It’s not metaphysical, though you might wonder from time to time really how much karma exists and what you did to irritate it so much.
That perpetual exhaustion we feel is not one of those, but a conglomeration of them, one rising about the others depending on the day. When our children are babies and they need us for everything, it’s the bone-tired depletion of being the hands and feet and love for our tiny people. Then, when they’re a little older, communicating and exploring their independence, their need for you wars with their desire to ‘do it myself,’ wearing on your emotions in ways that only people you are truly invest in can. As they get closer to fully realized, as you see their path and you know what their choices can yield, the physical exhaustion gives way to the metaphysical, the eternal nagging question about doing enough: “Did I do enough? Did I give enough? Was I enough?” as you send them out into the world to dually represent you and themselves.
This is the point when you might start hearing about self-care and how you need it and, hey, why aren’t you doing it already? You absolutely should be doing that but this is not the cheery self-help post to give you advice on how to do that. What you need and what the person next to you at the dinner table or at work or, hell, in line at the grocery store is not the same. Find what works for you and do it without apology. Space out for five minutes on your smartphone. Sip that glass with the brew that works for you. Close your eyes for ten minutes. Do it because you deserve it and because you’re tired.
Body, mind, spirit, whatever is signaling to you that it needs a moment, it’s okay to say ‘yeah, I need this.’
So, yes, I love my kids and, yes, I want to get away occasionally. Not because caregiving and loving is some burden, but because I cannot be the best of me 24 hours a day. In order to escape the eternal did I do enough today? that follows me (and you and any caregiver) around, no matter the age, no matter the phase, I simply need to say ‘I’m tired’ and take a minute, an hour, a day.
And then I will come back ready to give it all again.
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Jennifer Kelly grew up in the Birmingham area, but migrated to Huntsville for graduate school and put down roots after meeting her husband, Jamie. In addition to being a mom to her two boys, she is a tennis ninja, trivia nerd, freelance editor, and aspiring writer. You can visit her at The Sir Barton Project, a blog about her upcoming book.