Care and Feeding

Weekend Child Care Leaves Me Exhausted. Am I Doing Something Wrong?

By the time the weekend rolls around, the house is a mess, there’s no time to cook healthy meals, and my patience often wears thin.

A woman yawning, a baby in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Slate Plus members get more Care and Feeding from Jamilah Lemieux every week.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My partner and I have two kids, a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old. We’re lucky to have them in an excellent day care during the week.

But I dread the weekends. I feel terrible for saying this.

Two full days with kids leave me exhausted; the house is a mess, there’s no time to cook healthy meals, and my patience often wears thin. Our toddler seems developmentally normal, but she’s still a handful: There are occasional bouts of yelling, hitting, and kicking, and occasional attacks on her baby brother (we’re working with her to properly identify and respond to her emotions and give consequences if her behavior is really bad). The baby is sweet but gets bored and cranky easily, as he’s not quite sitting up or crawling yet, and he still likes being carried around.

As a result, the weekends feel more like management and less like family-bonding time. This feeling I’m having is especially ironic because we spent four months together in isolation during the spring, and we survived that fine. But now I’m back to work five days a week, with time to think and be myself. How can I look forward to the weekends again? I realize that the issue is my mindset, and I need to reframe it, but I’m having some serious trouble doing it. I also realize that this isn’t a real-life issue and that many other parents are dealing with this as well, so I feel guilty on top of everything else.

—Is It Monday Yet?

Dear IIMY,

This is absolutely a “real-life issue”! Otherwise, Care and Feeding wouldn’t exist.

While you may be feeling a sense of relief to be back at work again, that doesn’t mean that a five-day workweek is a vacation from your children. You’re working full time and parenting. Just because most parents are doing the same thing doesn’t mean it isn’t hard as hell. A 2-year-old or a 6-month-old would be a handful on their own, and you have both of them to care for.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but weekends are not nearly as thrilling for parents of small children as they are for people who can actually devote those two days to rest, relaxation, and pleasure. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a weekend flow that can work better for you than the one you have now, but I want to be clear that this isn’t simply a matter of you failing to enjoy the magic of parenting. Because parenting does, quite often, suck—much like adulthood in general—though we certainly thought otherwise as kids, when it seemed like the alleged “freedom” our parents enjoyed would be the ticket to true happiness.

You and your partner need to work out a schedule that allows each of you to have at least a little bit of solo time. Whether it’s taking a walk, going to get a haircut, or even just doing the grocery shopping alone, you need time to be away from work and the children so that you can decompress. Come up with family activities (park visits, art projects) that you do as a group, as well as some that allow for a bit of separation while together, such as movie nights and tablet time.

Most importantly, forgive yourself. You’ve only been a parent to two children for six months. This is all still new. It will get better!