Care and Feeding

Do I Have to Sacrifice My Only “Me Day” for a 3-Year-Old?

I feel so burned out.

A person wearing a birthday hat holds a toddler.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My niece’s third birthday party is on a day that I had been anticipating as my “answer to no one, no obligations” day (minus my baby and dog). I had planned it well before invites went out—the RSVP was two days ago, and I have struggled to address it. This is my husband’s sister’s daughter, so it would be an in-law event. My husband has had a rough couple of months, so I’ve been carrying more of the household load (more than my normal stay-at-home mom load), plus handling the heaviness that comes with my partner not feeling his best.

He is going to an out-of-town wedding over the weekend of the party. With him away and my older kid with her bio dad, I was looking forward to a day where I could get takeout, go for a long walk, nap when my baby naps, and not have to pretend to be OK (my in-laws’ preferred state) and make small talk for four hours. Parties on this side of the family also come with the obligation to bring food to contribute and sometimes even help with setup/cleanup. It’s also during my daughter’s nap time. To add to the stress, my daughter refuses to be held by anyone but my husband and I, and the party is at a venue where putting her on the ground isn’t ideal.

It just sounds like so much. My heart says that I should stick to my plan of using this day to recharge. I feel burnt out on caregiving and family events. I want my husband to come back from his trip to a wife who can continue to handle our heavy life. My head says I’m being a terrible, selfish aunt if I don’t go, and that they’ll add this to the reasons why I’m “cold.” His family struggles with boundaries and values selflessness, often to the point of burnout. Help!

—Self-Care or Selfish?

Dear Self-Care,

Definitely skip the party! The celebration is for the 3-year-old niece: She will probably be overwhelmed with attention and would barely register your attendance, and she will certainly have no adult memories of your presence there. If anybody else resents your choice, then that seems like a personal problem for them to deal with—we are not obligated to accept invitations! Just like on an airplane, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can assist others. I often find it more relaxing to parent around other kids and people who can help distract and engage the baby, but if you know that you will find more relaxation at home, take it. If you really feel like you need to participate in the birthday celebration, send a nice gift or plan an activity with the niece to celebrate the birthday some other day.

—Jonathan

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