I have a confession to make. It’s not easy to admit, and it’s not going to make you like me very much, but I’m just going to come right out and say it. A few weeks ago, I went to Disney World, without my baby. That’s right – I went to every child’s dream destination, without my own child. And you know what’s even more shocking? I had a good time.
I know. Worst. Mother. Ever. I’m not even going to start with the ‘it was a work trip’ excuses – it’s not exactly like Mickey Mouse had me at gunpoint. In fact, it’s almost been liberating to have committed such a cardinal parenting sin. It’s utterly indefensible – unnatural almost. And I’d highly recommend it to anyone.
OK so the Disney World element is taking it a bit far, but the idea of a break from your kids really is something I think everyone should try. There is this unspoken assumption that being a parent has to be hard, that we’re not really being a good mum unless we’re making sacrifices or suffering in some way. But as an anonymous wise man once said (on one of those decorative quotes I saw on someone’s Instagram), “you are not required to set yourself on fire in order to keep other people warm.”
As mums, we can be guilty of wearing our sleep-deprived, hard-working lifestyles almost as badges of honour. We verge on martyr-syndrome territory, almost compulsively denying ourselves time off in order to avoid guilt, or simply because it seems like the right thing to do.
I know that I have done so in the past – my son is now 12-months-old, but before I came back to work full-time when he was seven-months, part of me almost luxuriated in being frazzled by the end of a day caring for him. At least if I was completely worn out, that was evidence of me ‘doing the best I possibly can’ by him,
But the definition of ‘doing our best’ has changed over the years. A study on parental time-use by Pew Research Center found that we actually spend more time with our kids nowadays than we did in the Sixties. Whereas mothers spent an average of 10 hours a week on childcare in 1965, as of 2011 mums were spending 14 hours a week on childcare, despite the fact that mums’ time working outside the home leapt from eight hours a week in 1965 to 21 hours in 2011. Can we just take a moment to realise how significant that is? The traditional Sixties mum, with her prim dresses and baking, spent less time with her kids than even the working mums of today. How have society’s expectations increased so much that we feel as if we are doing worse than ever, when actually we are being more hands-on than ever before?
Anyway, back to my Disney World escapade. I can’t pretend that I didn’t feel guilty. I almost backed out several times, including asking to be sent home the minute we touched down in Orlando (I’d been at least as excited about the 14-hour plane journey sans-baby as I was about Space Mountain anyway). But once I got into it, I tapped back into the sort of carefree enjoyment that my pre-mummy self used to have. And, having returned, my enthusiasm for spending time with my son has been reinvigorated tenfold. I certainly don’t have rights to the ‘hard-done-by mum’ badge that I used to hold up, that’s for sure.
So you know what I think all mums should do this Mother’s Day? Give yourself a break. It doesn’t have to be anything as scandalous as zipping off to Disney World without your kids, but take some time for yourself, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Have a spa day. Go on a girls’ night out. Take your foot off the pedal, let a few balls drop. The world won’t end and your children won’t suddenly stop loving you. And at least you know that whatever you choose to do, you’ll never be accused of being the ‘worst mum ever’ – I’ve already bagged that title for myself.
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