Here's the thing, I don't think I'm a selfish person or a terrible parent (well at least not most days), but every time I bring up that I take a week or so each year away from my family as a "mommy sabbatical" to recharge my batteries, family and friends look at me with combination of surprise and disgust. They splutter things like "you're doing what?" Anyone would have thought I had told them I was running off to have an affair with Prince Charles!
For approximately 355 days of the year, like most women with families, I give most of my time, energy and resources to the people who matter most: my family. Sure every now and then I might treat myself with a girls night out, a movie or a tacky magazine but most of the time I'm thinking about how I can support and improve the lives of my family, even when I'm at my paid day job.
Once a year I take five to ten days leave from my family to attend to my needs. I can do anything I choose from visiting a friend to attending a silent retreat (not that I have tried the second option yet). I can eat out, not eat at all, watch movies, read, sing, laugh, dance, cry, cook, swim, in fact I can do anything that supports me as a woman to get back in touch with who I am, what I want in life and reflect on how I'm actually going. A "mommy sabbatical" allows me to do four things:
- Learn something new
- Reflect on the past and improve on the future.
- Unplug from daily routine (even unplug from the online world)
After all, we wouldn't conduct our paid working life without reviewing how we are going or taking annual leave to rest up. Why should we treat being a mom any different? After all, it's the most important job there is. If we don't take a break in life we burn out and we shatter, which makes us ineffective parents and unhappy and unsatisfied human beings.
I know what you're about to say: But this sabbatical stuff is only for middle class women who are working right and who have choices.
Actually it's for all women, especially women who do not get a break from 24/7 on-call parenting. I truly believe we were not supposed to do this parenting gig solo, we were supposed to do it with the village supporting us.
The retreat doesn't have to be a week in Vegas or to the Maldives, but we do have to get some space to think and reflect sometimes. This space might be at a friend's house for a weekend or overnight. If we don't have a babysitter you need to find a good one, it's one of the best resources you will use in your parenting life. Find out from your local education institution if there are people studying childcare who would like to be your sitter, swap favors with friends, do anything, but find a trustworthy, loyal, reliable sitter. There are some communities that will exchange babysitting services for other things like free haircuts or car washing. Utilize your family if you're lucky enough to have them around. You need time away from your kids once in a while and they need time away from you too. Harsh I know but trust me it's for the greater good. For those of you who like to say the most dreaded sentence I have ever heard "Oh their Dad is babysitting them today," I say he's not babysitting -- they are his children, it's his responsibility to take care of them too, he doesn't need a standing ovation and a cut lunch.
Also moms hear this "DO NOT ASK" for a leave pass from your children -- they will undoubtedly say, "please don't leave me mommy" with big brown eyes filled with tears, or if you have a teenager, you're the worst mom in the world, how could you leave us, whatever! Never ever ask them just discuss with your partner and do it.
There are those out there that are thinking that they would love to do the sabbatical thing, but have obligations and responsibilities can't possibly do it. Well I'm sorry to announce obligations are choices. I recognize sometimes those obligations can have consequences, like if you don't go to work you don't get paid, but it doesn't change the fact that they are still choices, some choices have more consequences then others, harsh but true.
Why would I have children just to give them to someone else, after all nobody can look after them like I can right?!
Well let's have a quick look at this now.
You're not giving your kids away for good. It's a week, maybe two, hell even a month out of 12 months of the year. They won't forget you, trust me, mine haven't yet. They might just learn some new skills while you're away, like how to get out of bed and make their own breakfast. They may even appreciate what you do more on your return.
Let's face it, as women we still struggle to take credit for our work, say sorry far too often and try and make most things right for others while putting our needs last most of the time. I know this is a huge generalization but I still see us raising our kids to walk all over us like we don't matter. I did this myself in the early days of parenting. I made sure my kid's needs were always in front of mine regardless and it wasn't helpful for anyone.
What I'm trying to say is that behaving like a martyr as a parent isn't going to make you a better parent or help you raise independent, respectful humans. It just doesn't do anything useful for anyone, it doesn't help your child develop skills, it doesn't get your needs met and it doesn't win you any friends.
So now that we have the tricky stuff out of the way:
What do you need to have a successful annual mommy sabbatical?
- A partner, who is in agreement, can see the benefits, and supports you somewhere between 70-100 percent.
- A reliable quality sitter -- or here's a thought, the partner can do it if they are present.
- A destination
- A time-frame
- Your few of your favorite things
- A sense of freedom -- oh and leave the guilt at home.
5 tips to ensure you have the best Mommy Retreat:
- Plan ahead of time
- Have a backup plan in case things happen
- Leave guilt at home
- Try and be in the present and enjoy the moments (try not to pine for the children too much)
- Surround yourself with people or things that make you feel good about yourself
Ideas of what to do on a Mommy Retreat:
- Visit a friend's place
- Go to a resort (if you can afford it)
- Go camping take the Kombi Van out
- Stay with a relative you like
- Get on a plane and leave town
- Challenge yourself at a retreat, like a silent retreat.
- Volunteer in a community (doing something you like) somewhere where nobody knows you.
- Go to a hotel and read books or watch movies
Once I settled with myself that I wasn't going to take on other people's judgements of me, then what really mattered is that it worked for my family and made me a better person. Then I thought to hell with it next year I'm going to New York City for a whole two weeks and I did.
When I returned to my family they were happy to see me, I was happy to see them, I can see things more clearly and low and behold the earth didn't end with my absence. Best of all I'm ready to love another day being the best parent I can be, and looking forward to planning next year's mommy sabbatical.
Me with my family.