Last Friday, my husband and I drove my kids to the Atlanta airport and put them on a plane unaccompanied (their 20th flight, but first one solo!). They were on their way to spend 16 days with their dad in Virginia. As we waited for them to board the plane, my youngest turned towards me and complained about how much she would miss me. My oldest said she was a little nervous but also excited. I reassured them that their dad would be waiting for them the second the plane door opened, and told them that they were going to have a great time with their dad.
I also told them they were welcome to call me anytime they wanted, but if they were having so much fun that they forgot, I would be fine. When sending them off, my job wasn’t to tell them how much they would be missed. It was to reassure them that there was nothing to be worried about – they were safe, they would have a great time, and their relationship with me would be exactly the same upon their return home.
When I had confirmation that the plane was off the ground, I grabbed some coffee with my husband and we headed back to Chattanooga. We walked into the house and immediately started celebrating the beginning of our kid-free time. I posted this picture on Instagram:
And then, I heard some comments like:
“That’s horrible to say!”
“How can you say that? Don’t you miss them?”
“I can’t believe you posted that! That’s terrible!”
There are many different ways to be a parent and to raise a good human being. I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoy these breaks from my children, and it doesn’t mean I love them any less or am any less of a parent than a mother who has never left her child’s side. Do you disagree? Do you wish you had more kid-free time?
Well, here are are the reasons I don’t feel guilty about loving a break from motherhood:
I know they are happy.
My oldest Facetimed me the first night she was at her dad’s. Considering they live with me during the school year, it was no surprise that she was feeling mixed emotions at bedtime. She was a little tearful as she talked, so I validated that feeling for her, then quickly told her that I was so glad she was getting to spend some time with her dad because I knew it made her happy. We started joking around and before she hung up, she had a good belly laugh and kissed me goodnight. When I’ve talked to my kids since, we talk about all the fun things they are doing with their dad. They are happy as can be, and their dad is taking good care of them. I can relax and enjoy some distance from them because I know they are having a great time and are in good hands. I’m not the only adult in their life that can care for them in a loving and healthy way.
It’s good for my marriage.
My husband is 18 years older than me, with two older kids of his own (19 and 13). When we got together, he knew he was taking on some added parental responsibility and he has been an amazing step-father. We try to have regular date nights, but date nights don’t compare to a whole week without parenting responsibilities. When my kids are gone (and his daughters are in school, or with their mom), we get to shift the focus back to our relationship. Our schedules are more flexible, and we spend more quality time together. We go on walks together, sleep in, stay up late, and eat meals that aren’t big hits with kids. It’s a nice change of pace for a week or two.
My children learn that independence from their mom isn’t a bad thing.
Don’t we all want our kids to grow up and become independent adults? When my kids know that I love them no matter where they are, that they don’t have to call every night in order to maintain a good relationship with me, and that I’m happy when they are happy – with or without me, they learn healthy relationship boundaries and learn to trust themselves and others. I want them to have an inner sense of security about who they are and their ability to navigate the world, so giving them time away from me helps them learn that they are capable of being happy and healthy in various situations.
It helps me to be a more balanced mother.
It’s good for me to watch someone else care for my children, and to realize that they can be okay without my constant presence. I am more patient when they come home, I can’t wait to see their smiling faces at the airport, and I am more grateful for what they add to my life. These separations are a chance for me to rebalance, and take a deep breath. Parenting is exhausting! I can be madly in love with my children, and incredibly frustrated with them within the same hour. Some days I love everything about being a mother, and some days I’m jealous of my childless sister whose schedule is no one’s but her own.
I did not have an identity dependent on children before I had them, and I will have to have a separate identity when they are adults and no longer living in my home. When they are living with me, it’s true that most of my attention and energy is devoted to being their mother – young children necessitate more attention and energy – but that doesn’t mean that I should forget everything else that makes up who I am. It’s good for my children to see this, too, because it shows them that no single thing defines who they are.
I don’t have to choose. Both are okay.
If you think it’s a bad thing for a parent to enjoy time away from their kids, why is that? It doesn’t mean I love my kids less; it doesn’t mean I hate being a mother. It simply means that I’m human, and that parenthood is demanding. I adore my children, and I also adore my “time-off.” During the next couple of weeks, I’ll enjoy solo trips to the grocery store, fewer dishes to clean after dinner, less of a mess in the house, mornings spent sleeping in and being lazy, the absence of bickering and whining, a more flexible schedule, and date nights with my husband that don’t necessitate a babysitter. It will be glorious. And, when I’m driving down to Atlanta to pick up my kids at the airport, I will be ecstatic to see them and have all that responsibility again.