By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

My husband and I have three children. Last week, for the first time ever, we put all three of them on the bus to go to sleepaway camp for the summer. Honestly (and this entire letter is going to be brutally honest), we couldn’t wait for this day to arrive. We’ve been looking forward to it for years!

We love our children dearly. However, they are very difficult. Each one has different issues when it comes to behavior, learning, socializing, etc. They are not easy to raise. I spent a tremendous amount of time taking them to professionals for interventions. I also spend a tremendous amount of time worrying about each and every one of them. I often ask myself whether I’m doing everything I can for them. Am I ignoring certain issues that I should be paying more attention to? I worry whether they will ultimately be well-functioning adults one day. I wake up every morning with worries about them, and I go to sleep making a mental list of what’s in store for me the following day.

I know that most of my friends deal with plenty of stuff also. Maybe not with all of their children, but there is always something going on. And of course, they are dealing with other worrisome issues in their lives as well. I know it’s not supposed to be easy—and it’s not.

But the reason I’m writing in is because my husband and I are over-the-moon happy at this moment! Though it’s only been a few days, we are enjoying every minute of the three of them being away and being able to enjoy one another thoroughly, without the distractions of our children. We aren’t busy trying to discipline them, break up fights, clean up messes, or answer often-annoying questions. We believe they are in good hands and, again, honestly, I can’t remember the last time we’ve felt this happy.

My question is whether there is something wrong with us. Last night, my close friend, who also has plenty to deal with in terms of her children, called me up, practically in tears, telling me how much she and her husband missed their children over Shabbos and how difficult it was being away from them. I was so embarrassed and certainly didn’t share with her how amazing our Shabbos was without our children. But a part of me is wondering whether there is something wrong with me.

As I said, I do love my children, but I realize I’m so much happier without them around. I can focus clearly on myself, my husband, my life. I can relax, do whatever I want, take care of me. And we’re already dreading visiting day, unlike my friend, who is counting down the minutes to see her children again.

Is there something wrong with my husband and me? I’m a little worried that maybe I’m not totally cut out for the job of being a mother and I’m missing some kind of mothering gene. Though at this moment I’m feeling very happy and satisfied, I’m also feeling very guilty because I’m not missing my children even a little. Should I be worried about the type of mother I am?

Relieved (for the moment)

Dear Relieved,

Sometimes it’s hard to be brutally honest with family and friends, the way you are being in your letter to me. And that’s because most people are not brutally honest with others when it comes to admitting feelings that may not be perceived as socially correct. They don’t want to be judged by others as possibly being insensitive, selfish, not mother material.

Is every set of parents clicking their heels in delight when they put all of their children on a camp bus for the summer? Certainly not publicly, and I’m sure many not privately either. But make no mistake—there are many sets of parents, and certainly mothers, who naturally feel a tremendous sense of relief knowing that their children will be well-cared-for for a month or two, during which time the parents get a well-earned physical and mental vacation from all of the nonstop work involved in raising children today.

Raising children is, no doubt, the hardest job on earth. But of course, that’s not the case with all children. Some children seem to raise themselves despite having clueless or selfish parents who are so busy with themselves that their children are left to their own devices, figuring things out. And astoundingly, sometimes they seem to do a very good job at it!

There are low-maintenance children and high-maintenance children. Sometimes raising one child can feel like raising a dozen, and sometimes raising a dozen children can feel like raising one. Clearly, you have high-maintenance children who require nonstop attention, and you and your husband have been stepping up to the job, doing the best that you can in providing them with as much help as possible. You have much to feel proud of. But it’s a nonstop, tiresome job that can wear down even the strongest among us.

Who wouldn’t feel relieved to get a well-earned break from the endless work, pressure, and worry? I’m sure once the summer is over, you will step right back up to the plate, doing all that you can and providing them with as much help as you can muster. But for now, there is nothing wrong with feeling the feelings that you are admitting to. They are honest and make total sense. The fact that you feel you can’t share them with others doesn’t mean that there is something inherently evil about your thoughts and feelings. It just means that there aren’t too many other people who are brave enough to get real about their own sense of relief (in the cases where it exists). And even those who know exactly how you feel, because they feel it themselves, believe they must play the role of the sad parent who is unable to sleep at night because she is missing her children so desperately. Allow them their roleplay.

As for you and your husband, relax and enjoy! You obviously have a strong, healthy marriage and are able to enjoy being alone together in a way that many other couples don’t access so easily. Lose the guilt, lose the comparisons, and enjoy every minute of this particular time of the year. Don’t worry—before you know it, your children will be back in full force, with their needs and demands, but also with their hugs and love! And at that moment, you’ll be able to more easily access the joy they also bring into your lives.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295. Read more of Esther Mann’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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