When on holidays, I want to rest

The pandemic has unbalanced the division of labour for many couples with children, with women now taking on much of the work in the summer as well

4 min
I want a holiday

BARCELONA"This has not been a holiday", Eva, mother of an almost two-year-old girl, told a friend the other day. "Waking up at 7 a.m. or earlier, playing, preparing breakfast, going out with the child, preparing lunch, going out again with the child and finally preparing dinner. That's what I've done every day", she sums up over the phone. The feeling she has after 15 days on holidays is that she hasn't stopped working for a second and that no one has helped her. Her partner had to work from home, and she has had to take on all the tasks of parenting, logistics and organization of the apartment they had rented on her own. "I'm much more tired than when I left", she sums up.

This feeling is common among many women who are mothers when they return from vacation. At the end of August, when the return to work and school is just around the corner, many women realise that they have spent the summer holidays working: everything related to the house and family meals and being with the children. The feeling is that they haven't stopped for a minute and have had no rest or leisure time for themselves.

"All this shows us, once again, that even when on holidays those who are mainly in charge of all the family logistics and children are women, who are the ones who carry the mental burden of organizing the family", says psychologist Elena Crespi, who points out that we are talking about heterosexual couples, because in same-sex relationships there are other dynamics.

Unpaid work

This expert wants to put the emphasis on the concept of holidays and therefore asks herself: "What does it really mean to go on holiday? Well, it means to stop doing paid work, but we continue with unpaid work, which lasts 24 hours a day if you have children because it doesn't stop, and this is still mostly women's work", she explains. Moreover, this expert has detected that since lockdown the situation has worsened: "With the months we spent locked up at home, a dynamic was established in which many mothers were responsible for the children while the fathers were locked in a room to work and this has generated inertia that in many cases has remained: now there are mothers who take on many more tasks, we saw this last summer and we are seeing it again this year and, therefore, it is normal that they end the holidays very tired", she says. 

Along the same lines, the psychologist and member of the governing board of the Official College of Psychologists of Catalonia, Dolors Líria, explains that in this matter tradition weighs heavily because "as this has been the case for many years it is very difficult to change". And she adds: "These tasks that are mostly done by mothers are a job that never stops but is not paid or valued, it is a permanent demand that for centuries has fallen on women and, although today things are beginning to change, it is a change that is going very slowly".

She believes that the solution, if we are talking about heterosexual couples, "is for our partners to take co-responsibility for all the tasks: we have to set limits and demand that they do their part", she says. Crespi fully agrees: "We need to stand up for ourselves and raise our voices, but we also need our partners to sign up to this change, to learn and take responsibility, we have to commit to joint family responsibility in heterosexual couples, even though mothers' involvement has always been justified by a biological issue, this has to end and we have to ensure that responsibility is shared".

However, it is not always easy. Guilt often comes into play, a feeling that many women have if they do not play the role of mothers at 100%. "Traditionally it is very well accepted that men have their personal spaces within the family dynamics - whether it is going to play paddle tennis with friends or meeting up to watch football one night a week - but there is still a negative valuation if women do it. This weighs heavily and this is where the guilt comes from", explains Dolors Líria. To combat this feeling, Elena Crespi believes that "we have to banish and replace the concept of sacrifice that has done so much harm to women and especially to those of us who are mothers". "Instead, we have to think about self-care, because if we don't take care of ourselves, we won't be able to take care of others", she points out as an advice to avoid the feeling of guilt.

Take a holiday from the holidays

To stop and regain strength

Along the same lines, Líria reflects on the concept of holidays and points out that this long break, usually in summer, is fundamental and very necessary to get your strength back. "The goal is that you have to recover in order to continue to be effective at work", she explains, and draws a parallel with motherhood: "It's the same with mothers. To continue to be a good mother, you have to have time to rest because parenting, however much you do it with all your heart and desire, is very tiring and involves a wear and tear that you have to be able to repair". And Encrespe adds that having moments or periods of rest, such as summer holidays, "is very important because women, apart from being mothers, are many other things". "We have to be able to visualise ourselves in the other spheres that we are: women, couples, people who enjoy and do other things...", she says.

To sum up the importance of rest periods Líria stresses that people have limits, both mental and physical ones - "we are human", she says, "not robots", and therefore "we have to give ourselves permission to stop, empty and recharge our batteries, and to get back to being as well as possible we have to do this repair and this rest, we can't always be in constant activity".

And mothers having these times of rest and enjoyment is not only positive for them, says this expert: it is also a very positive message for the children. "This is a good message because we will be teaching them that life is not all about work, that it is also important to take care of ourselves and spend time doing the things we like, whether it's reading a book or going out to play sports. It's very good to teach them that parents also enjoy themselves and not just work, and holidays are the ideal time for this".