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Why I Give My Husband ‘Daddy Breaks’ (Without Dwelling on My Own Exhaustion)

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Life with my 3-year-old twins can be really fun and silly, full of special twinsies moments, like when they create imaginary worlds together or spontaneously hug. It can also be frenzied, stressful, chaotic, and overwhelming, a whole lot of chasing around for parents who were previously couch potatoes. Don’t get me wrong — my husband and I love our little boys and wouldn’t have it any other way. But, yeah, we’re really tired, probably even more than you might think.

While the first couple of years were pretty rough, it’s definitely gotten so much easier. Around the time our boys turned 2, my husband and I started to feel like we were getting a handle on things, and getting our life back a bit. At the same time though, the twins were becoming challenging in new ways. Yes, now they could play more independently, but they were also conspiring to create all kinds of mischief. We didn’t have to worry about them toddling on unsteady feet, but now they were running, fast, in opposite directions. Now, they could verbalize their needs and their wants, which they did frequently, loudly, and insistently.

As parents of older twins have continued to tell me, it does continue to get easier. In the now though, parenting preschool-aged twins is just a lot of work. Again, work I’m grateful to have, but work nonetheless. I’m home all day, so I’ve become accustomed to the wrangling, the noise, the chaos. It’s our neutral state. But, for my husband, who works full-time and travels frequently, it can sometimes be too much. Sometimes, he just wants some peace and quiet.

Thanks to a short commute, my husband gets home right around the time my boys are finishing up dinner. As soon as he walks through the door, they’re begging him to “play monster” and, from the second he puts his backpack down, the shenanigans begin. There’s wrestling and rough-housing, there’s squealing and screaming, there are doors slamming and running between rooms. Inevitably, there’s some kind of thunk, followed by cries, followed by my husband yelling to me in the kitchen, “He’s okay. He’s o-kay.”

Honestly, I’m exhausted just listening to all of it. And, being the neurotic mama I am, it’s probably better if I didn’t watch all of this wild boy mania. As it gets closer to bedtime, the boys become even more challenging, suddenly needing ice in their water and different pajamas, like those dirty ones in the hamper, and a different book, like that one we don’t even own. They suddenly want a bath instead of a shower, no a shower, no a bath, with bubbles, or a bubble shower? And they want 20 snuggles, no, seven snuggles.

And when bedtime is done, my husband and I collapse on the couch, under a blanket, with our dog between us, savoring the silence.

Those weekday nights are cake compared to our weekends though, which always seem jammed with sports class, birthday parties, and errands. Once upon a time, weekends were for leisurely brunch and long naps; now we spend our weekends chasing after active boys, trying to reason with unreasonable boys, and taking curious boys to the same restaurant potty five times because they’re threatening to have an accident. 

At some point, I started to notice that my husband would be particularly short-fused come Sunday afternoon. He wouldn’t have the same patience he usually had. He didn’t seem to be having any of the fun he usually had. It just seemed like he was over it. Done.

At first, I felt all indignant and angry. Hey, I’m dealing with this all week long, get it together, I’d think to myself. Okay, who am I kidding? Of course, I’d say it out loud to him. It seemed unfair to me that he couldn’t try a little harder, that he was allowed to be more tired than I was, that he wasn’t being an equal parent. My expectation was that he should buck up because, that’s what good dads do. Right?

But then, I decided that, instead of just snapping at him, maybe I needed to actually talk to him about what was going on. That maybe, I shouldn’t worry so much about what “good” dads do, and instead, see what I could do to make sure my husband could continue to be the great dad that he already was (and is). It turned out that, yes, just like me, he was tired come Sunday. But, unlike me, he wasn’t getting any downtime during the week to regroup. While I took “me time” when the boys were in school, or we had our sitter, he wasn’t getting that. He would work all day, jump right into Super Daddy mode when he came home, and then do it all over again the next day. And on the weekends, it was just constant childcare, without any chance to catch his breath.

So, we agreed that, every weekend, he could take a few hours to do whatever the hell he wanted, even if that meant watching three straight hours of football while I took our kids to the park. Or retreating to the bedroom to read a book and take a nap. Often, he just takes the dog for a walk, gets some coffee, and folds laundry. It doesn’t matter though because it’s his downtime, it’s his break. And he needs it. Maybe other dads don’t. Maybe all of them do. I really don’t care. All I care about is that I’m supporting my husband and his needs, and helping him to be the very best dad he can be. In return, he supports my needs as well, which might include a nap of my own on a Sunday afternoon.

And it’s been working, better than I could have even expected. These “Daddy breaks” are just what he needs to be present, engaged, and playful when he’s with the boys. That’s kind of our deal. More than that though, I think the breaks are a way for me to make sure my husband feels heard, supported, and loved. It’s my way of telling him that I appreciate everything he does for our family. It’s my way of telling him that I’m there for him in whatever way he needs. That we’re in this together. As mothers, we always talk about self-care and making time for ourselves. Our partners are allowed to want and need the same. There’s nothing wrong with giving them that, as long as they can give us the same in return.

This last weekend, he went skiing with a friend…yes, it was like a very long “Daddy break.” And when he came back, he was really excited to see us, and it felt good. He was so happy to be back home, which is all I really want for him and for all of us. Because a happy Daddy — and husband — is the very best kind there is.

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 Photo: Getty