Confessions of a Super-Mom: In Defense of a Mom Sabbatical

confessions May 15, 2022

I missed the sunrise again. I'm in Florida at a beach on the Atlantic Ocean, been here three days now and I twice I overslept. But I am going easy on myself. It's a vacation afterall and I can sleep as needed. I'm upset that I missed the sunrise, but I will have tomorrow, my last day to get up and go see it. I saw it yesterday, albeit it was a bit cloudy. 

I had to defend my choices last night. A conversation I had with my husband (Jason is his name, btw) revealed that he didn't quite understand why I am vacationing alone. I thought he did so when he said he was still confused, it caught me off guard. My mom and oldest daughter are confused as well about my decision to come alone. So, of course I googled it. I can't possibly be the only mom to have taken a vacation solo.

And alas, I am not. It's a thing. A "momcation" is what it's been termed. I copied the links to some articles and sent them to my husband, mom, and daughter. They highlighted exactly why I decided to fly 1000 miles away and go to my happy place (the beach). I liked the other term that I read as well- a mom sabbatical. I love my role as a mom and being the primary caretaker of my children. It's a role I am very proud of and take seriously but there's no reason why I can't have a break because as we all know it's a hard job.

As I read the articles and blog posts about it, I began to understand why my husband's remarks about someday being able to stay at home with the kids while I be the primary breadwinner gets under my skin so much. He knows it too. First of all, by the time that happens our kids will be grown- we only have 10 years left until our youngest turns 18 and second of all, it makes me realize he will never understand. It's sad but as I try to show my real self, I am realizing that there may be parts of me he doesn't understand nor does he find attractive.

Me wanting and needing a break every so often, a break from my roles as a mom AND a wife doesn't sit well with him. Sometimes I feel like I had to put on a mask for the past 20 years because I needed him to love me. For our children's sake and for my sake. As I grew in love with myself and started considering myself worthy of love, I simultaneously didn't need his love as much. Don't get me wrong, I do love him and I know he loves me but love given freely is a different kind of love.

I think it's possible to be loved and not NEED to be loved. For so long I needed to be loved and before I was married that got me into some scary situations, as you can imagine. I don't know why I never really felt loved. There were pockets of time where I'm sure I felt loved but what made those moments different? When I think back and try to pinpoint those moments, I think of my dad strapping down the big mac (you know, that big plastic storage container that hold suitcases) on top of my car, turning to me and saying "you have to learn for yourself but know that your mother and I love you" before I took off back to meet a boyfriend who win retrospect was absolutely no good for or to me.

Maybe it was that love given freely and him trusting me that made me feel loved. Jason and I have had our ups and downs over the almost 23 years we've been married. Lately though, it seems like mostly downs. I don't know when exactly things started changing. I think when I started challenging the way I felt towards myself. Until then, I thought I knew who I was or maybe I was content with who I was but then I wasn't. I am not one to express my feelings or really even to identify what they are within myself. I would hold my emotions in until I would cry. 

And I cried a lot. Over this past winter, I experienced depression, maybe not for the first time in my life but definitely the worst and the longest in duration. It was so bad that I finally went on antidepressants. I just couldn't get over it. Here I am a counselor trained in treating depression and I couldn't help myself. I isolated, slept, cried (alot!), was irritable, and felt an overwhelming doom over life. It was a textbook case of depression that I'm slowly climbing my way out of.

I went a little off track there, but what I wanted to say was that I am working on learning how to express my feelings better. For almost all my life, I didn't express my feelings but it's something I wasn't to get better at. As I work on my self-discovery, I am seeing things I'd like to change and this is one of them. Part of expressing your emotions is actually identifying what it is that you're feeling. I want to do a better job of that.

I think the momcation or the mom sabbatical that I'm on helps me do that. No compromises. I have to ask myself, what do I feel? Do I feel like getting out of bed, not do I have to get out of bed? Do I feel like eating this, not do you all feel like eating this? Do I feel like leaving the beach right now, not let's leave because so and so has to use the bathroom. This whole trip allows me to get to know myself and choose what I like when the rest of the time I'm catering to every one else's needs and wants.

I think I just stumbled on something with that last statement. See, even this blog is an exercise in self-discovery! Let's talk about people-pleasing. This is something I struggle with still. That 40% edge, right?! I guess I don't identify as a people-pleaser because I know people who are much more than I am, but I can definitely see people-pleasing behaviors in myself. Looking back, there are times where I was really busy, volunteering all over town and it had more with my inability to say no than being altruistic. The people-pleasing is also problematic in my relationships because then I end up feeling underappreciated and basically used.

But again, it boils down to asking myself how I feel and also what I need. It's a skill I'm working on and so because it's new, I have to remind myself that before I say yes, I need to ask these questions of myself. Which is where the boundary-setting and mindfulness skills come into play. I can give myself space to breathe and decide if whatever I am faced with is something I want to say yes to. I've realized that when I say yes to something, I am saying no to something else. I used to just say yes to everything which left me feeling totally overwhelmed and drowning, but I'm saying no to more things nowadays.

Last year, when I scheduled my mom sabbatical, I don't remember being nearly as stressed out about telling people as I was this year. I mean, I know I was. And when I finally did tell people, I was met with resistance and confusion. My sister-in-law and my husband thought I was leaving to have an affair. As if! It's hard enough to have one relationship, I don't have time for two! People thought I was having a mid-life crisis or a mental breakdown. I simply wanted a break. I needed a vacation from the everyday demands of being in my roles. 

This year, I actually put off telling my husband for probably two months. I booked the flight and the airbnb, then agonized over how I was going to tell Jason. It's strange, because I didn't feel guilty. I didn't feel like I was doing anything wrong but I just feared his reaction. I recall last year being on my sabbatical when we were on a phone call and he said, "well enjoy your time now because this will be the last time you'll be going on a vacation alone."

I think I feared his reaction most. I knew he'd be mad. And he was. That's a whole other story for another time (maybe)! For weeks, it was the topic of my own therapy sessions. Yes, I am a therapist and I see a therapist! What can I say- I believe in the power of counseling! I dreaded telling him almost to the point of reconsidering backing out even though I knew I needed to go. For my sanity. For my mental health. I was suffocating. Six days isn't a long time, especially since two of those days are for travelling. But they suffice.

So, I finally bit the bullet and told him and my mom. It's weird that they were the ones who I felt would judge me the most. And they did. I stood strong though and through the last few weeks, I resolved to enjoy my trip despite what they thought of the idea. I knew myself enough to recognize that time away would do not just me good, but my whole family good. It would make me a better mom and a better wife. And let's face it, Montana is a bit land-locked so time in my happy place, near the ocean can only serve to revitalize me. Because for a while there I wasn't feeling very alive.


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