Kids Health

We Need to Talk About What a 'Break' Really Means for Moms

Moms are on duty literally 24-7. As a mother of all boys, I routinely joked that I was busy from “son up to son down” — but even that wasn’t accurate, because it implies a stretch of solid rest in between. And, well, no. If someone wasn’t having a generally restless sleep (keeping me awake in the process), they were having a nightmare; if they weren’t wanting to sleep in our bed, they were barfing or peeing in theirs. With 4 kids, I don’t think I actually slept through the night for at least a decade, and that’s a conservative estimate.

But, like all moms do, I got up in the morning like I was refreshed (ha!) and tackled my daily to-do list. And when you’re the person predominantly responsible for managing children and a household, that list is never complete; it just keeps growing, no matter how much you manage to whittle it down. It feels like you’re building a sandcastle that the waves keep washing away before you can get it finished. We won’t even talk about the feeling of abject failure at the end of one of those days when you’ve been busy every minute, but have very little to show for it — every mom knows this feeling, and it sucks.

In light of this, we need a refresher course on what constitutes getting a “break” for moms. Because, partners of the world, there seems to be some sort of misunderstanding.

Going to the grocery store alone is not a break.

Just because we aren’t with the kids doesn’t mean we’re not still stressed to the max. We’re juggling the mental load of remembering what we need, deciding what we can afford, attempting to stick to a meal plan (that we had to plan in the first place), feeling guilty for everything we put into our carts that isn’t organic or a vegetable, and trying to recall which kid is refusing to eat what this week.

Going to Target with the kids in tow is not a break.

Sure, Target is a mom’s happy place, and we can get a coffee while we’re there. But taking the kids on a Target run is not like some gleeful shopping spree. Because kids. They want this and that, they wanna use the restroom, they whine and fidget, they don’t want to ride in the cart.

Cleaning the house alone is not a break.

Thanks, honey, for taking the kids to the park so we can clean with nobody coming along behind us and immediately messing it up. However, we’re still cleaning. Scrubbing pee off toilets and tossing socks into the washer and wiping up unknown crusty substances is NOT. A. BREAK. If we asked you to clean the entire house, would you consider that relaxation mode? Nope, didn’t think so.

Playing with our children is not a break.

Playing with kids is fun. For the kids. And yes, we like to watch their little faces light up as we make the doll say exactly what they instruct us to, or get jabbed repeatedly by a “doctor” giving us a “shot.” But while we’re pretending to eat imaginary food or snapping tiny accessories onto an action figure for the umpteenth time, we are counting down the seconds until we can get back to those nagging to-do lists … because it isn’t completing itself, unfortunately.

And while we’re on the subject? Taking the kids to the playground isn’t a break either, even if we are just sitting on a bench. We’re too worried about them getting hurt, hurting someone else, or the scathing judgment of the other playground parents.

Basic self-care is not a break.

For the love, can we pleeeeeease stop referring to simple acts of personal upkeep as “breaks?” Taking a shower or a bath is not a break just because we’re not bathing someone else at the same time (and everybody knows that no one leaves Mom to take a shower in peace, anyway). Spending five extra minutes to shave or condition? Not a break. Exercising? Not a break. Pooping with the door closed for once? Not a break.

In a nutshell, folks, we need to redefine what a break means for moms … because we are really getting the short end of the stick here. It’s unfair to expect us to count household chores and basic hygiene as some sort of relaxation time simply because we aren’t simultaneously wrangling kids.

You want to give us a break? Take something — anything! — off of our perpetually-overflowing plates. Tell us to get out of the house and enjoy ourselves, by ourselves for a few hours … and then make sure there aren’t things piling up in our absence, because nothing is worse than taking some time for yourself and then paying for it by scrambling to catch up later. Let us close the bedroom door and read or watch trash TV or take a nap uninterrupted. 

Yes, giving moms an actual break means more work (temporarily) for our partners as they shoulder the load usually reserved for us. But consider it an investment in the wellbeing of the entire family. Because when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy — and when we’re expected to be grateful for the basics that everyone else gets to take for granted, the only thing breaking is our sanity.


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