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March 01, 2005

Maybe it's me?

By Amy D.

Sometimes I come across on here like a paranoid freak, but really... I am. I worry about people's perceptions WAY too much. I worry that people won't like me, which has now transferred to people not liking my child. People who comment on my posts are always so positive and reinforce the fact that I should stop worrying so much about other people. I'd like to say that this post is going to break away from the norm of me being worried about other people... but it's not.

I recently went away for a week to visit with friends. It was a planned "vacation" and I have been looking forward to it for a while. My husband is extremely supportive and always lets me know that he's comfortable with me going and being "free" for a while. This is one of the parts of my relationship with him that I love so much. He totally believes in giving me space and in allowing me to explore the parts of the world that I was so eager and excited to explore BEFORE we were married and had Isabelle. So why write a post on how wonderful my husband is? Well, this isn't about the one person who DOES understand, it's about everyone else.

I don't know how many times I've gone on these trips and been given the 2nd degree about how I can do that and how selfish it is. People who aren't even close to me feel that they can bestow on me advice about how to give up travel when your kids are small. I even didn't tell my own mother (who lives two miles away from me) that I was going to Seattle because she always looks upon it as a selfish act.

I wrote about this subject last year when I was planning on taking my first trip. I got sound advice from people who felt that in order for me to provide a happy environment for my child, I needed to make sure I was taking care of myself as well. I know that this is the answer, but I still feel like I need to make excuses or maybe even reconsider.

Am I being a bad parent because I need to get away a few times a year? Am I being selfish to want to have some alone time where I can rejuvenate myself and my life? This question haunts me quite a bit. What do YOU do?


I see that we have a lively discussion going. As the person in the minority as the moment, let me go back to basics.

One good starting point for just about any discussion is the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If you are following the Golden Rule with your children, and truly doing unto them as you would have done unto you (assuming that you were still small like them, totally dependent on your parents like they are, emotionally bonded to your mom like them, and vulnerable like them) then I don't think you can go too far wrong.

If your child is old enough to have perspective on your time away and to be comforted by telephone calls from you, or if your small child genuinely looks forward to you taking trips away from home or at least doesn't seem bothered by it when you're gone or troubled after your return (perhaps because your husband is unusually brilliant in caring for small children), then I seriously doubt that you need to change your plans. More power to you.

The question is what to do in the more usual case where your child is upset or bothered by your absence of more than a day or two, perhaps starting to cry when they see you get out the luggage again, or showing signs that they've been under physical or emotional stress during your absence (such as poor eating, diaper rash due to unfamiliar caregiver, weepy while you're gone, emotionally shut down and distant from you when you first return, or particularly clingy). Is the answer to discount the child's feelings as being less important than your feeling that you need time to yourself? Or is the answer, "Gee, maybe it's natural and healthy for a child to be bonded with me, and maybe I should keep optional trips to a minimum for a while until my child is a little more mature?"

I've observed that we adults tend to discount kids' feelings a lot because they are physically so small and because they have such wacky ideas, such as putting peanut butter on the bathroom walls. But the truth is that they have adult-sized emotions in child-sized bodies, and their emotions are no less real and no less valid than our own. You long for a weekend away to have an uninterrupted thought. That's legitimate. You go, girl! But your child also desperately longs for your hug when they fall down and skin their knee and are hurting. Their emotional needs are just as valid.

So to get more of a perspective on what it means to a small child when you leave them behind for a week so that you can have quality time with your friends, imagine that, God forbid, you have a brain hemmorage someday that leaves you paralyzed and bedridden, and not able to communicate very eloquently either. You are now totally dependent on your husband for food, drink, social conversation, entertainment, nose scratching, and just about everything else that matters.

After six months of taking care of you (except when he's at work, when you have a caretaker), your husband, whom we'll call Joe, announces that he's going away for two weeks on a marvelous vacation with his friends, without you. But he'll be sure to call and bring you back a T-shirt. He doesn't ask you, he tells you. You cry and ask him to stay because you don't know how you'll survive without him, but he says he's going anyway. While he's gone you have a bad dream and feel like you're drowning, and wake up sobbing and desperately wanting to be comforted, but Joe isn't there.

Four months later, Joe tells you he's going on another wonderful trip with his friends to try his luck in Las Vegas, and it will be for another week or ten days. You start to cry and you beg him not to go, but he goes anyway.

Three months later, he's off again for another two week week vacation. He's going to Tahiti this time. But he'll be sure to bring you a T-shirt.

There is a point at which you would begin to feel a bit rejected. There's a point at which that feeling might even be right.

If the guy in my example, Joe, takes one long trip a year, God bless him and nobody will fault him. If he takes an occasional mini-weekend off, well then that's reasonable too. At least he's back in a day or two, and he needs it. But taking trips lasting several days away several times a year, just for relaxation or nightlife, begins to seem a little indifferent at some point, doesn't it?

There are two additional factors with kids:

1. They have no sense of perspective. Half the stuff that happens to them has never happened before, as far as they know. A bee sting is a national disaster as far as they are concerned. Therefore, unlike you, as the paralyzed adult in my example, who can at least understand on an adult level why Joe needs a break now and then, your small child can't understand and put it all in perspective very well.

2. With kids, time seems a lot longer than it seems with us. When you're gone overnight, to them, it's like a week. As they mature, they can handle it better.

When it comes to mom's time for herself, we can all draw the line at different points, but there is a line to be drawn. Honesty compels us to admit that. The solution is not to be upset with, nor to decide to ignore, moms like me who give a little more weight to the child's point of view.

I think that "Mom's night out" once a month is perfectly reasonable and healty. Mom and Dad together having a couples vacation without their child(ren) once a year or possibly twice a year (not to the exclusion of a family vacation) -- healthy.

Mom having time away for a retreat or a weekend with friends or just about any reason at all once or maybe twice a year, and preferably not for more than a night or two, perhaps three or four days tops -- probably healthy.

Mom visiting a sick relative out of town for more than a day or two-- not optimal for the kid if it's an extended trip -- but necessary and at least a demonstration of love to an important family member on the other end. Better to bring the kid along if at all possible.

Mom going away on business several times a year -- not ideal but presumably unavoidable in the short term.

But optional week-long trips several times a year, just to visit with friends? That's what I understand is being discussed here, because you (Amy) wrote that you recently spent a week away visiting with friends, and you "don't know how many times" you've gone on these trips (and had people question it).

If you can maintain your bond with your own child while you're traveling by calling them on the telephone (as someone has suggested), can't you maintain your bond with your faraway friends by telephone (or letters or emails)? As adults, they are better able to handle a long-distance relationship than a small child, one would think.

Is it possible, just maybe, that if your own mother thinks you're going out of town without your child too often or for too long, she might be right? She raised you. Maybe she knows something about what small children need. You know, parents have an annoying habit of being right, especially when you think about what they said 10 or 20 years later.

Is it possible that the person who has the courage to disagree with you -- like me or your mother -- might actually be on your side?

Granted, my "courage" is somewhat bouyed by the fact that I'm anonymous. I deliberately have not shared my full name because I have my own life to live. Nonetheless, I have this tiny degree of courage today to dare to disagree with you and have all your friends on this blog tell me how wrong I am.

So, given that I have the courage to disagree, perhaps my opposing viewpoint deserves at least some consideration before you decide that I'm someone who obviously doesn't know how to have fun anymore.

Heck, I probably DON'T know how to have fun anymore, unless you count making my kids laugh or helping them look for rainbows or clover, or drying their tears and making them smile again. I love it that way. I chose it that way. I am richly blessed that way, and perhaps because I waited many years for this blessing, I will not throw it away, not even a week of it.

But there's a flip side. It's not all laughter and rainbows. It's also poopy diapers, loud screaming and running in the house, frequent exhaustion, long nights followed by long days, and a thousand daily challenges that would test the patience of a saint. That's when you can bet that I would gladly flee to Australia for six months, and don't think the thought hasn't crossed my mind. I work full time in my business, followed by hours and hours of childcare and other essentials before I get the kids to sleep, followed by the "graveyard shift" when I'm trying to finish my work on the computer and meanwhile one or both kids are sick or fussy (mercifully not tonight as I write this). Then the next day I get up and do all the same work all over again.

What keeps me going during the hard parts is putting myself in my children's shoes, and remembering what I would want and need if I were their age. I also remember what my mother did for me. I am lucky that my memories include lots of family vacations and beach trips and camping trips and even housework and yard work (which I resented at the time as slave labor, but it built a strong work ethic in me that has helped me in life).

I can't remember ever taking a call from my mom in Paris or Toledo or Cabo San Lucas where she went to vacation with her old friends. Nowadays she goes on ski trips constantly and travels the world, but back then she stayed home for us and when she wanted to go somewhere, she took us along. (Thank you Mom. I love you.)

As a single parent, my kid-free weekends are what keep me sane. Do I attend kid functions during that time? Only if I absolutely have to. Do I call them at their dad's house? Only if absolutely necessary.

Do they know I love them and miss them? Absolutely. But they also love their time with their father, and know that they get to come home to a mom who's had time to restock the refrigerator, do the laundry, and recharge her batteries, among other things...

As usual, the person who makes the most controversial comment leaves a bizarre email address that looks to me to be fake.

It's hard not to think about what other people think, but ultimately, these decisions are yours and only you know what is best for your family. And you know that. If it feels right it must be.

I'm finding it so interesting that we as women are free to do what we see fit to make ourselves happy and healthy. Once we are mothers, however, we are served up on a silver platter to be picked apart, criticized and second guessed by people who are no better equipped to make decisions for us than the man in the moon. Before I married, my best friend and I would take an occasional weekend trip together. These have continued right through both of our marriages, then motherhood...in the past two years we have taken a week long trip to Orlando (from Jersey), a few months ago we drove down to D.C. in the afternoon to catch the Vote for Change Concert then turned around and drove back that night (arriving back in Monmouth County, NJ at about 4:45 a.m.)and not even calling out of work the next day. Have I been treated to some snide remarks? Absolutely. Could I care less? Absolutely not. I am quite unapologetic about indulging my fun side. However, I guess I'm lucky enough to be surrounded with really supportive friends who trust me enough to realize the only person who really knows what's best for me....is me. Those who need to tear others down in order to feel some sense of superiority are just, well, maybe a bit jealous of independent spirits who are able to nurture themselves in unconventional ways. Now, go call your travel agent!!!

I want to throw another 2 cents into the mix. My mother traveled a lot when my siblings and I were kids Did I resent her for her travels? Not at all. She brought me souvenirs of all the exotic cities she traveled to like New York, Atlanta (exotic to a five year old). She bought me books about the places she was going so we could read them when she got back. My brother and sister and I had special time to hang out with dad. And my mom would call every night and let us know that she missed us and loved us and couldn't wait to come home. So by all means, if you have the time, funds and a babysitter, pack up and go!

Thanks for all the great comments. I do wholeheartedly disagree with Gina. I do not feel that I need to have a religious retreat or a sick relative in order for an "excuse" to go on a mini vacation. I think your thoughts are valid for yourself I'm sure, but I would probably include your comments on the list of those in which I either a) get upset or b) ignore. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate all sides...even if I don't agree with it.

The measure of good or bad parenting is not in what other people think of you. It's not about them. Its not even about you. It's about your child and your family.

The reality is that kids do miss their moms a lot when the moms are gone, even if they are gone for one night or several nights.

Your husband undoubtedly misses you too, even if he's kind about letting you go without complaint.

Are these trips for really important reasons? Good reasons would include visiting close family members on trips where it's very impractical to bring your husband and child along, attending a rare spiritual or religious retreat (once or twice a year max), etc. Bad reasons would include taking trips to enjoy activities that are more suited to being single such a nightlife, etc. Another bad reason in my opinion is traveling on business when you don't absolutely have to, when your kids are still young.

Assuming that your trips are for a good and meaningful reasons, your child will still miss you while you're gone, and your child's feelings do count too.

Kids miss you especially if you're gone overnight because they trust you and rely on you. You are their emotional compass, their sounding board, and their source of comfort and reassurance. When you are gone, there is a big void.

Their routines involve you. When you're not there, everything gets rearranged by whoever else is taking care of them and it can be upsetting.

Time also passes slowly for them when you're not there. It's sort of like "dog years" to them. You're gone for one night, and to your kid it feels like 7.

That being said, you are the best person to find the right balance between your needs and those of your child.

If right now your child seems to be handling it well and your husband is doing a great job in your absence, and your trips are for good and meaningful purposes, then enjoy your breaks, and Godspeed.

I have the opposite problem when it comes to grandparents. They constantly try to get rid of me so they can have babysitting time. I know they're excited about the baby - the first grandchild on both sides of our family - but it drives me nuts. They're even dropping hints about sleepovers. I've perfected the art of selective hearing. :-)

Being a SAHM for many years I can't say I've never felt like you do. Feeling as though I was more or less abandoning my child...of course that was the first child...God decided to give me 3 more and I NEED, WANT, DESIRE to have the time to myself. I don't care what others say or think. Add to this having a disabled husband who can't do anything like a "normal" husband would. He's so sick that most of the time he just sleeps...which is about 95% of the time. So all this falls on me to do the things that I HAVE to do, the things that need to be done that I'll get around to someday and the "whenever I feel the mood hit me" to do things.
Since we live so far away from all the relatives I don't have that oportunity to go away for awhile, I can't just leave my kids with my husband as I'd fear for their safety.
But before all this happened with him, I would go at a whim, go whenever I wanted and never felt guilty one little bit. I missed my kids but I also needed to recharge, to be ME again. To let my hair down, blast the radio to MY kind of music, bad words and all and not have to worry about their little ears and what they might hear.
Now that they are in school I get some "ME" time and I love it. I feel that they and I are recharged once we see each other again and it's all good.
I've told the people who would tell me "oooh, you're so selfish, you should be staying with your child" or "you're married now, you shouldn't do those kinds of things anymore" that for one, it's none of their business and two, let them wear my shoes for a week and see if they don't need a break too.
That right there usually shuts them up...

Am I being a bad parent because I need to get away a few times a year? NO

Am I being selfish to want to have some alone time where I can rejuvenate myself and my life? NO

But I understand the part about caring too much about what other people think. I just blogged about it here: http://marciapeterson.blogspot.com/2005_02_01_marciapeterson_archive.html#110931009856638400 (if youwant to see what I came up with onthat issue!).

Take care.

Here's how I view it. You spend time with your child to reinforce your "Mom" status. You have date nights (etc) with hubby for the "wife" in you. And you should have time to yourself to play to remember what it means to be "Amy." The Amy that was well before you met your husband or had a child. It's not like you're running away or giving up. You just need a little boost juice. It's not selfish at all! To quote, Pretty Woman, "Take Care of You."

This may seem odd but there's nowhere for me to go without Lillianna. When I went to visit my mother in Florida in December,Lillianna came with me. It was a trip for both of us to reconnect and relax because we spend so much time running to Brownies or dancing school or I am dropping her off at my friend's house so I can go to work on Thursday nights. All we do is run.
That vacation was wonderful for us.Rich stayed home because he had to work. He never minds when I take Lillianna somewhere which is a good thing because I hate when he goes to New Hampshire to visit his sister without me since it's 2 1/2 hours away. (This is always when I am at work over the weekends.)

If I decided to visit one of my friends out of state or out of the country,I would want Rich and Lillianna with me to share in the fun.

One of my co-workers goes away a few times a year for a week(a few years back they went on a cruise when they all turned 30!) or weekend with her college friends.No kids or husbands. She loves that time away and she needs it.
I don't see anything wrong with it at all.It depends what you want to do and no one has the right to tell you not to do it.That includes your mother!!

Absolutely not! In fact, I've been thinking of taking a trip by myself lately. When I mentioned this to my mom, she sounded horrified. I would probably visit someone in some other part of the country or do a girls weekend in Vegas or something.

You are allowed to recharge your batteries however you see fit. It can't be done with the children along, because you are still working. A little break never scarred anyone for life.

I, too, am lucky enough to have a husband who understands my need to get away and have time to myself. My best friend recently asked me to go to Vegas with her for a few days this summer. I turned the trip down and forgot about it for a few weeks. I mentioned it in passing to my husband this weekend and he asked me why I wasn't going. I think that, especially as stay at home moms who don't have adult company for about 80% of our lives, you have to get away in order to save your sanity. Even if it's just for a few hours, missing your children makes it so much easier to come back. Often I forget why I made the decision to stay home with my children. Any time I am away from them for any extended period of time, I remember why. I feel I am a better mother for going away.

As an aside, I am also someone who cares entirely too much about what other people think. It hurts so much when we think people may look on us and think we are not good moms. Just know that knowing when you need some space will make you a better mom. You will be more caring toward your children if you take care of yourself as well.

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