I never had the deep impulse others do to have a baby. Somewhere around 30, my husband and I grew bored filling our Sundays with lingering brunches, newspapers and trips to Target. Our contemporaries were becoming parents, we had a 3-bedroom, 2.5 bath home and heck, why not?
Instead of hopping in the sack, we judiciously laid out a plan to adopt. Two years later, we were blessed with an infant boy who embraced us as dearly as we treasured him. As captivating as he was, on the plane ride home from Korea, this new mom died a little inside.
Our son is truly a marvel. I love him more than I have ever loved anyone. But in over a decade as his mom, I have never felt 100% whole. Captain Obvious will tell you parenting is a blessing, and also very hard. But Captain Obvious is not a mom.
It’s not just me. As a personal coach to a myriad of moms, I can say unequivocally, motherhood is not always blissful. Motherhood is enduring relentless guilt, trying to meet mythical expectations and always turning the other cheek. We feel inadequate if we don’t spend consuming amounts of time teaching, feeding, grooming, entertaining, chauffeuring, or playing with our kids. We feel compelled to fill every hanging chad of downtime with enrichment.
Even when our kids aren’t physically present, we strain to perfect our parenting skills. We tape phrases from parenting books to our bathroom mirrors. We download podcasts, forward each other articles and pin inspiring memes on Pinterest. We are hungry for hacks on how we can find joy, exhibit calm in the face of a tantrum, let kids find their creativity in boredom all while ALSO chilling the f*ck out because our kids are anxious, over-booked and stressed out themselves. It’s exhausting and depressing when we invariably fall short.
These never-ending duties lead most moms to never, ever take a break. We don’t carve out time to be alone, when we can dream without interruption. We stop listening to our inner voices. Over time, the voices become whispers, and eventually mute. Instead, we feel trapped but the prison of our own making, so we just white knuckle it through each day, week and year, optimistic that eventually, we will reclaim ourselves at some future date. But here’s the rub: if we squelch our inner selves so completely, we can never be reborn.
Moms, smell the roses (and not just those we get on that one day a year in May) – we are driving ourselves crazy. I have yet to meet an un-anxious mother who isn’t swallowing anti-depressants, CBD-laced gummy bears or Rose’ every day at wine-o’clock.
With my magic wand, I am giving all mothers permission to leave home. No, not permanently, but frequently and with intention. You have my permission to find a place and time every single day, every single week, AND every single year to pay attention to yourself. Not just permission, but a prescription to treat your chronic guilt, pressure and angst.
Begin wherever you are. If a pedicure once every two weeks is where you need to start, start there. But, hopefully, you’ll build a muscle to go big and not go home. To ensure your souls don’t die while you are caring for others’ lives, conjure the courage and be brave. As Brene Brown says, “Dare greatly.”
Bravery is walking in the footsteps of Cheryl Strayed or Grandma Gatewood, the first women (at the age of 67!) to hike the Appalachian trail in the 1950s. Convert a closet into your personal reading nook complete with Christmas lights and a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. Or do as Charles Lindbergh’s wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh did and abandon to a deserted beach and write. Anne gave birth to 6 kids, was a pilot in her own right and left home a few weeks every year to be by herself. This at a time when the idea of women’s liberation suggested pantyhose instead of girdles. (Side note, Anne’s memoirs are worth the audible subscription if you’re bringing your ear pods on your solo walk in the woods.)
When you do create ways to retreat, your goal isn’t just to recover from the relentlessness of mommy-hood. Your goal is to grow. Eavesdrop on your fantasies. Fight the excuses. Be creative. What’s a superpower you didn’t know you had? If you suck at something, did it still bring you joy in the endeavor? Great! Who cares if it sucks. The job within the job is the practice of attending to yourself. That’s a low bar and yet far too few of us even try.
I have heard excuses from friends and clients on why they are uniquely incapable of leaving. “My kids are too little.” “I need the PTO for family obligations.” “My husband will only eat a candy bar for dinner if I’m gone.” “I can’t afford it.” I understand that there are certain situations in our lives that require us to grit through tough periods – terminal illnesses, abusive situations, extreme work scenarios. Be honest with yourself, though. Is it really one of the 2 or 3 times in your life when these exceptional exemptions keep you from abandoning the monotony of motherhood regularly?
Don’t hide your newfound commitment to yourself. Don’t apologize for running away. Publicize the boundaries you are setting. By sharing your plans with your tribe, you hold yourself accountable and you proliferate permission to others who need a model of chutzpah.
In other parenting guides, experts suggest that doing this self-work will actually help you to be a better mom. Maybe. But I hope not. That misses the whole point. You are not doing this for them. You are doing this for you alone.
I have yet to crack open a child rearing manual with one line: tend to them enough so they can grow into adulthood and habitually walk away. That permission would be a blessing.