Harsh truth time: I’m a mom who likes being away from her kids.
I came to this realization when I was a little past the halfway point of my maternity leave after I had my second son Noah. I was one of the lucky few people in the U.S. whose employer offered a generous maternity leave (i.e. paid and longer than a few weeks): in all, I had roughly six months total of paid time off both to recover from childbirth and to bond with my newborn baby. And throughout that time, I had an opportunity to reflect on my motherhood style.
I undoubtedly cherished every minute of my leave (and, for the record, I would never exchange that time off for anything in the world, and I fundamentally believe that: one, this country needs to mandate paid parental leave for all types of parents, and two, we need to destigmatize parenthood, particularly pregnancy and motherhood, in the workplace… but I digress, as that is a topic of conversation for another, much meatier blog post). However, I realized during that time that I’m a better mom, a better wife, a better head of household, and, in truth, an all around better person when I spend some time away from my kids.
One Tuesday afternoon in April 2019, a couple months after Noah’s birth, I had finally left the house. The reason: to treat myself to a long overdue haircut.
I intentionally avoided spending a super long time away. I booked an hour-long appointment at Hair Candy SF, my go-to hair salon in San Francisco’s Mission District. Factoring in the two-hour round trip via BART, my total time away equated to approximately three hours — the equivalent of a standard break time between nursing sessions.
But even though I didn’t spend a lot of time away, I realized something crucial, as I stood on the platform at the 24th Street Mission Street BART station. After stomping up and down the cracked San Francisco sidewalks; after being amidst the bustling crowd in the Mission; after sitting in my go-to hairstylist Germaine’s chair and catching up on life and work and motherhood; after climbing up and down the BART station’s stained staircase — after those roughly three hours away, I felt rejuvenated.
In that moment, I finally felt comfortable admitting to myself that the weeks prior to this much-needed appointment were starting to take their toll on me. My patience waned, my temper grew shorter — and I had been taking out whatever internalized frustrations I felt as a mother of two young children on both my husband and my kids.
Sure, I could partially blame postpartum hormones (and potentially postpartum depression and anxiety). But, regardless of the cause, it was unfair of me to offload my mental and emotional struggles onto my family — sometimes in regrettable and shameful ways.
Before that hair appointment, I hadn’t realized that our home life had become tenuous, a bit dysfunctional, and highly uncomfortable. For my children, who were just existing and simply needed their mother to address their most basic needs. For Reggie, who was more often than not forced to step in and help manage both my faltering emotions and our children when I was unable to find the willpower to function.
And for myself.
Without realizing it, I had completely abandoned any effort to practice self-care, even in the smallest capacity. Despite my promise to avoid doing so, I had completely neglected my most basic emotional and mental health needs… And that neglect was already starting to manifest in the slightest form of resentment.
My little family unfortunately had to shoulder that burden of my blossoming resentment.
So, standing on that BART station platform, I felt rejuvenated. And ultimately relieved. Maybe it was the fresh air. Maybe it was the extended coherent conversation with an adult. Maybe it was the old adage exemplified: “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Or maybe it was the positive side effect of taking care of myself so that I could better take care of others…
Whatever the reason, standing on that BART station platform, I felt normal again — and, ultimately, eager and excited to hop back on the train home to see my kids. The first time in a while that I had felt that positive emotion.
So, I confess: I’m a mom who not only likes, but ultimately needs, a little bit of space, time, and distance from her children. I need it to maintain my own sanity. I need it to preserve my marriage. I need it so that my sons can continue to grow up in an emotionally healthy environment.
Admittedly, I can’t say that embracing this truth is easy: I feel so guilty during those times when I yearn to have distance. There is so much pressure, particularly on mothers, to constantly be present — even if there are other capable, competent, and eager individuals who can and want to step in and offer assistance. It’s difficult in those instances to prioritize my need to preserve my mental health over my desire to avoid judgement from other people (or even to avoid judging myself).
But I remind myself that I try to be a parent who doesn’t judge other parents, that recognizes that other people should do what’s best for them, and that actively avoids criticizing others for their life choices. So why in the world shouldn’t I extend that empathy and respect onto myself?