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tl;dr I am completely emotionally and mentally exhausted, as well as significantly physically exhausted, and have completely burned out this last week with respect to my young children and my graduate research work. I need a vacation with my spouse without my kids. Problem is, we've never left our kids (3.5 years old and 10 months old) for an extended period and don't know how they'll behave, and the 10 month old isn't weaned yet. I don't know if I can wait the two months before the baby gets weaned (as is the current plan) before having a vacation, and the baby has never drunk from a bottle so I don't know if we can switch her over to formula.

How can I take a vacation from my kids when it seems not possible to actually leave one of them behind?


Details:

This last week, I crashed and burned out when my 10-month old baby (who had just started sleeping through the night) regressed and decided to start waking up early again. I developed a depressed mood and, although I feel physically and emotionally exhausted, am unable to fall asleep earlier to compensate for waking up earlier. I am in the middle of an aggressive research-oriented graduate program which has come to completely overwhelm me as I crashed. I have lost all motivation for my research, and almost all motivation in my home life. I had no idea I was so close to crashing until it happened.

I have a 3.5 year old as well. He is loud, my baby is loud, and we live in a small apartment so it is impossible to escape the noise anywhere. Even on the days I feel like I can sleep in and try to recover (my spouse taking sole care of the kids during that time), the inescapable noise makes it impossible. I have grown very short and impatient with my older kid as part of my burnout.

I don't have anywhere to escape. My work is stressful and I have no motivation for it, so my office is not relaxing. My home has no sanctuaries in it because it is so small. I don't really have any hobbies any more because of the time my research and family takes, and I don't feel like I have any friends I am close enough to to just hang out with. Also, I hate the US state I'm living in right now, there is very little available of what I am used to doing (hiking, outdoors etc.) and many other reasons.

edit: answering some more questions. I probably wouldn't be able to hire day help, but that wouldn't help anyway since I need someone to take care of the kids in the evening and overnight, and what I really need is to be in a different place than the kids, not just have someone else take care of them. Baby is eating foods now, probably about half-and-half food and breast milk. I have tried earplugs, they don't work very well on the high-pitched noises that are the most troublesome. I run fans too while I'm sleeping, still not enough. My apartment is just too small (650 sq. ft.). I think I can technically take a break from grad school, but my clock will still be ticking towards my deadline for graduating (summer next year) and I'm already so far behind on my research due to the fact that I have kids that that by itself is a major stressor, let alone considering taking major time off. I can enter a special semi-student status if I need to keep working on my dissertation past what should have been my graduation date, but that presents a new set of problems (obtaining funding, for example) and extends the amount of time I'm in this life situation. We live far away from family so it's not an option to leave kids with their grandparents.

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    This sounds incredibly difficult; I hope we can give you some worthwhile advice. A few more pieces of information would help: What is your financial situation (i.e. can you hire some help?) and what are you willing to try (have the baby try formula, or if they are eating foods now, give up breastfeeding, etc.) Have you tried quality earplugs/noise cancelling headphones? Can you take a break from grad school, or discuss some of this with your advisor? We can help you better if you give us parameters with which to work. Thanks. – anongoodnurse May 13 '18 at 15:14
  • @anongoodnurse, see edits above – NeutronStar May 13 '18 at 15:57
  • @anongoodnurse, wait, by "day help" do you mean all-day (24-hrs) help? If so, I could probably swing that for a little while. – NeutronStar May 13 '18 at 16:07
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    Thanks for the edit! It's very helpful. You might get some good advice over at Academia.SE as well for the professional aspects of this question. – anongoodnurse May 13 '18 at 18:40
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    are you unable to travel to their grandparents? Could you take 2 weeks during the summer near your grandparents, leave them there and travel somewhere else yourself? – Batavia May 13 '18 at 19:55
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You have my sympathy. Both parenting and working on your research/degree is stressful; doing both while under time-pressure and in your situation sounds incredibly difficult. I'm not sure it's a help, but I can recommend a few things, having been there myself.

First, give yourself permission to achieve less (this means no guilt.) If your baby is eating food, you don't need to breastfeed any more if it is not something that brings you peace and joy (i.e. something you love and don't want to give up.) You have done well to breastfeed the first six months, and people might remind you of the benefits of continued breastfeeding, but really, continuing if it's stressful brings diminishing returns. The sooner he stops feeding, the sooner that's one problem gone.

Next, if you can, find someone to mind the children a few evenings a week to free yourself to either do research, go out, or get things done that you feel stressed about not doing because you're minding the children.

Consider the possibility of changing your student status. If it gives you breathing space/lightens your burden, it's worth the extra time you're stuck there. You might ask about this over at Academics.

Dealing with constant stress is exhausting or worse. I realize time is precious, but meditating twice a day can give you some extra emotional reserves. Jon Kabat-Zinn's book, Wherever You Go There You Are is a good introduction and effective resource on stress and meditation. Taking life as it comes - a day at a time - and not worrying about the future, the past, or things you can't change makes a lot of sense and wastes less energy.

In the same vein, there are probably Mental Health services at your university. They may deal with burnout on a daily basis. See if it's something you can take advantage of.

I hope someone can give you a better answer. Good luck.

You can believe me when I say I've been there. For a number of years I was a part-time Emergency Physician (~24-30 hours/week), a full time mom, and I was homeschooling my children and taking care of the housework to boot, all with very little help from my husband. It helped that I loved what I was doing, but it was definitely burning the candle at both ends for years, and it took its toll.

  • "Consider the possibility of changing your student status." - part-time student isn't an option at my university. Or were you referring to some other status? – NeutronStar May 14 '18 at 16:10
  • @Joshua - You mentioned a special semi-student status. That's what I was referring to. Sorry about the confusion. – anongoodnurse May 14 '18 at 16:16
  • The semi-student status only applies when I finish my regular, five-year enrollment but haven't fulfilled the requirements to graduate yet. And even when I'm on that status, I'm still expected to be making full-time progress toward my degree. It's semi-student in that I don't have as many privileges as normally enrolled students. – NeutronStar May 14 '18 at 16:41
  • @Joshua can you “pause” or “suspend” your university position for a semester or so? I don’t know about the rules where you are, but life puts roadblocks in front of many students that forces them to take a break, get healthy again or sort out some private issues, then return. Your university should have some counseling available for you and others. – Stephie May 14 '18 at 16:49
  • @Stephie, I think I could but then I would lose my current housing and my only source of financial support for my family. – NeutronStar May 14 '18 at 17:49
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How can I take a vacation [with my spouse] from my kids when it seems not possible to actually leave one of them behind?

You can't.

What you can do is tell your spouse that you're at the end of your wits and that you're exhausted. Then take a vacation from your family. Let your spouse stay with the kids and go somewhere else. If money is a problem, pack a tent and go camping.

However, it seems to me that taking a vacation won't be enough to solve your problems. Once you come back, you'll be in the exact same position as before, only with less time to finish your research and therefore more stress added to your situation.

The only thing that seems to make sense in your situation is to drop one of the stressors, and since dropping your family should NOT be an option, what's left is your graduate research.

If going into semi-student status gives you more time to finish your research, that means less daily pressure, so that seems like a smart thing to do. Even taking a break from your research for a semester or two might be smart; I'm sure you could find work that paid at least as much as whatever your source of financial support provides you with now. A third option might be to renegotiate the workload with your supervisor. Supervisors are notorious for expecting more and more work to be done, but they might also listen to reasonable suggestions about cutting some of the work from what was originally envisioned when it turns out not to be doable in the available time.

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