I was washing dishes the other night when my wife came into the kitchen with her planner and a stack of papers. “Did you know the kids have two days off next month for fall break and teacher in-service?” She asked me.
“The fuck? Didn’t we just start school? Why do they need a break already?”
She shrugged and waved the school calendar at me. “I don’t know, but we should look at the schedule for the year and decide what we are going to do when the kids don’t have school.”
I groaned, finished the dishes, and pulled up my calendar. My wife opened her planner and we began the negotiations of who would take days off from work to be home with our three kids who are too young to stay by themselves. They are old enough to entertain themselves (whether they do is another story) but total self-sufficiency hasn’t been achieved—nor do they have enough decision making skills to keep them safe.
Throughout the school year there are random Tuesdays off, a mysterious half-day in March, week long winter and spring breaks, and holiday vacations to contend with. And that doesn’t even capture the days that a kid will be home sick from school or (God help me) gets lice or catches some other reason to be absent.
But even after we each selected several days to be with our kids when school was out, there were still about eight days where we needed coverage. Our choices were work from home (i.e. not get any work done because kids and hope our employers don’t notice because we will spend the next two days up until midnight to make up the work), or pay to have the kids in the day camp that the school offers for families who need childcare during vacation days. But the problem is that if I can’t afford to take time off of work, then I can’t afford to pay someone to keep my kids while I am working. None of our choices involve the assistance of a family member or someone outside of the two of us. We don’t have help, and it sucks.
“I wonder what Sam and Anna are doing with their kids during winter break? Maybe we can take their kids one or two days and then they take ours,” my wife said. I watched her get out her phone and text her friend. A minute later she grunted and muttered “figures” and then showed me the screen with Anna’s response. Grandma camp!
“It must be nice,” I said with resentment. My kids don’t have grandparents in town. My wife and I don’t have any family in town, nor do we have family members who are close enough to drive to us—or willing.
I don’t have Mom or Dad to turn to when my kids have an in-service day or when I need a break.
I’ll admit it: I get pissy when I hear a member of my “village” remind me that we are all in this together as we bemoan the labors of parenting to then tell me their parents are taking the kids for an overnight so they can have a much needed date night.
Are we in this together? Because your parents haven’t volunteered to take my kids. I don’t have relatives coming into town to help out. I don’t have free babysitters. I don’t have parents or family members who will unquestionably step in when I need them.
Of course, my friends deserve a date night. And good for them for having a capable parent who wants to and can care for their child at the drop of a hat—either through obligation or simply willful generosity. I wish I had expectations of my kids’ grandparents or a family member chipping in when I need it most. But I don’t. And since I don’t have Mom or Dad to turn to when my kids have an in-service day or when I need a break, I turn petty.
I don’t love my friends less, nor do I think they don’t deserve help, but I admittedly turn into a jealous and cranky person when I hear them talk about relatives who are coming to stay with them to help during school breaks. And I get irritated when my kids want to play with their friends but can’t because their buds are at Grandma’s for the day. Look, Grandma already chips in on snow days; can’t you keep your kids around on the weekends so my kids don’t need me to break up fights or entertain them?
My wife and I don’t have help, and it feels like we are the only ones in this position. We smile politely when our friends plan vacations around days off. We hold our tongues when we hear Aunt Mary is coming into town to help out with their kids. We feign excitement when our friends get a Netflix and chill night because the kids are across town at Grammy’s.
And then we secretly and enviously bitch about all of it.
It must be nice to save money on day camps and baby sitters. It must feel good to have a safety net when the other shoe drops. It must be easier to breathe when the suffocating feeling of drowning in the mess of parenting young kids is replaced by someone else willing to do bedtime.
It must be nice to not just have support but to feel the benefits of that support too.
My wife opened her planner and we began the negotiations of who would take days off from work to be home with our three kids who are too young to stay by themselves.
That is what I am missing most. I am not just resentful that I don’t have someone to take care of my kids because it would be cheaper and easier; I wish I had someone to take care of me too when things get rough. I don’t want to be pampered; I want to let go of some of the worry and everyday responsibilities by giving the weight to a parent or family member who will carry it when it gets too heavy. I want comfort food, someone to see how hard I am working, and the relief of knowing I can get shit done while my kids are in the care of some of their favorite adults. I want someone to ask me what I need and then show up without strings attached.
Being a parent feels impossible at times, and I am jealous of my friends who get to call their own parents and ask for help in a similar way our own kids look to us for—and get—what they need.