My husband recently told me that he'll be going away for a weekend in a couple months. This particular weekend happens to be my birthday weekend, but I nodded as he told me his plans.
"Good," I told him. "You should go."
My stomach twisted a bit at the thought of handling two kids on my own, but I knew I would figure it out, had to figure it out, because he really needed this time away. In the three years since we became parents, I have taken countless weekends for myself — time with friends, time to just be alone — but this will only be his second getaway since he became a dad. I set aside the birthday plans I had been formulating and encouraged him, knowing full well that his well-being, as well as the health of our marriage, could only benefit from him nourishing himself.
My husband's need to take some time for himself became apparent to me a few months ago when I casually mentioned I'd be going to dinner with friends the next day, as I did about once a month. My husband sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Ok," he mumbled, looking at the floor. "It's just becoming a lot." After years of focusing on me and my health, I saw for the first time in that moment the toll my self-care was taking on my partner.
Our world changed completely when we welcomed our first child into our lives, not just in terms of sleep deprivation and overwhelming love for a tiny human but also in the way my husband and I showed up for each other. What started as twinges of anxiety during my pregnancy turned into full-blown postpartum depression shortly after our son was born. In addition to the huge transition of new parenthood, my husband and I were also now managing my mental illness, which threatened my bond with my son, and at its lowest points, also threatened my life.
But recently I've noticed, in his moments of withdrawn silence, that all this focus on me is exhausting him.
When my depression got so bad I feared I would hurt myself if left alone, my husband temporarily worked from home so he could be with me and make sure I was taking my antidepressants. With counseling and medication, I began to improve, but this wasn't all I needed. To fully recover, I also needed to take breaks from motherhood — time to breathe, to encourage my hobbies, to find myself again. Taking this time for myself wasn't easy at first but gradually I realized how much better I felt with a bit of distance from parenting, and I also saw how much happier my son was when I was well.
In the years since, self-care has become a regular practice for me — a long bath here, an evening out with friends there, and when I feel myself slipping back to an unhealthy place, I'm honest with my husband about it. But recently, I've noticed, in his moments of withdrawn silence, that all this focus on me is exhausting him. Sensing his frustration, I recently told him to leave the house for an afternoon, to which he responded he felt like he couldn't, that he would worry about me. For so long my anxiety controlled both of our lives, leaving me unable to function and him taking on the bulk of parenting. His inevitable burnout wasn't something I expected when I decided to take my mental health seriously, but in hindsight, I should have seen it coming.
Before kids, our time was far less limited. If I wanted to go to happy hour with my coworkers and he wanted to spend the evening working on one of his many garage projects, we could each do our own thing at the same time. But these days, one of us doing something for ourselves takes a lot more planning and comes with more sacrifice. As with most things in a partnership, the work of raising a family and running a household is rarely evenly distributed. In our case, the pendulum swings between us depending on who has the greatest capacity at the moment. My capacity greatly diminishes when my depression and anxiety flare up, and it takes both of us working together to get me back on track. Now that I'm doing well, I know it's time for the pendulum to swing back the other way.
We will never strike a perfect balance. Marriage is a constant practice in giving and taking, and adding kids to the mix has definitely changed how my husband and I relate to and support each other. I will forever be managing my mental health, which may mean I have less capacity for parenting at times than I'd like to, but it's important to remember my husband needs breaks, too. So birthday weekend or not, I'll support his weekend getaway.