My wife was sitting cross-legged on the bed doing schoolwork on a laptop. To her right was a bag of licorice. It was a Saturday, after 9 p.m., and the kids were asleep. I was getting ready for bed, when she said, “I didn’t get a Mel Night this week.”

She said it while my back was turned, and my knee jerk reaction was to get irritated. Each week I kick her out of the house, and she goes out for a few hours to do whatever she wants. No kids. No husband. It is her time. We’ve been doing it for almost a year now, and slowly we have started to call it Mel Night.

There are a few problems with Mel Night. We can’t always make it work because of school, or work, or kids’ sports and other obligations. Sometimes we get so caught up in things that we completely forget about it. That’s not so shocking, though. What really blows my mind about Mel Night is that I literally have to nudge her out the door. Sometimes it feels like if I don’t make a serious effort to get her out, she will not go. Instead, she will stay home and fuss over our three children.

I assumed that each week she’d be excited to get out of the house. But she isn’t. She seems reluctant to leave, like she’s heading off for something she shouldn’t be doing. But it’s far from that: She usually goes out with friends from church or works on genealogy. When she comes home, though, she always seems refreshed, like she’s ready to take on her life as a stay-at-home mom with new vigor. Her mood is better the rest of the week. Giving her that time off makes our marriage better, honestly.

The reason I was irritated that Saturday night, though, was because every time she doesn’t get out, she brings it up later in the week, as though I should have done more to get her out. I don’t get it. I feel like she should be fighting for this time alone. It should be a well-earned pleasure that she should take, guilt free, and not have me nagging her each week to get out and enjoy herself.

I turned around, let out a deep breath, and said, “Why didn’t you remind me? I want you to have a night out. You deserve time that isn’t child centered.” I pointed at her. “I shouldn’t have to kick you out of the house each week.”

She shrugged. “I just get wrapped up in stuff,” she said.  “Sometimes I just feel like what I want doesn’t matter.”

And what I think she wanted to say was, “Sometimes I feel like what I want doesn’t matter as much.”

The tricky thing is when Mel does something on her own, like go to the store, she is still doing something for the kids. Her whole life revolves around doing things for the family. It’s a strange twisted circular thing that makes motherhood all-consuming. Having a night off breaks that cycle. Yet, she still feels guilty about it. Guilty enough that she often just lets Mel Night pass by.

When I think about her guilt, I think about how few things are as selfless as being a mother. And how much pressure that brings. Pictures on Facebook and Pinterest show mothers living in a spotless, happy world filled with homemade designer birthday cakes, and organic food. Mothers feel like they shouldn’t think about personal pleasures outside the family, because if they do, it will be viewed as selfish.

As a father, I can admit to having a hobby outside of children and when I do, I don’t seem like a distracted parent. But society is not as willing to cut mothers that same slack. It’s as if it’s inappropriate for a mother to enjoy pleasures that don’t involve her children, and I think it’s this social pressure that keeps Mel from easily taking one evening off a week. And when I think about that, motherhood becomes the most demanding job in the history of ever. It’s riddled with social guilt that makes a mother align her needs with those of her children, and only her children, and anything else is suspect.

Making sure Mel has a night off — from all of us — has really helped her to feel that her work is valuable. It shows her that the family notices what she’s doing, how crazy her life is, and that she deserves a break. And honestly, it’s nothing in the grand scope of parenting. She deserves more time off, but with Mel’s school, small kids, and my job, even an evening off a week can be hard to swing.

But none of that has been as challenging as helping Mel to understand that she does, indeed, deserve that time off, and if she does take it, she’s not being selfish.

“I’m not giving up on this,” I said. “You will take time off from the kids. And you will enjoy it. What day are you going to take off next week?”

We talked about our schedule, our next week, what evening would work best. “Saturday,” I said. “That will work.”

“Yes,” she said. “Okay.”

“Good,” I said. “And don’t feel guilty, okay?”

She smiled. “I won’t.”

We’ll keep working on that.

Clint Edwards is the author of  No Idea What I’m Doing: A Daddy Blog. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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