The Mother-Guilt Series No. 1: Time Away

The first in a series about mother-guilt. Need time away from your kids? Don't we all!

This is the beginning of an ongoing series about the guilt we parents carry around with us every day. With it, I aim to expose all the shoulds and the bads wherever they may be hiding in our mama psyches and bring them into the light. Let me say right now, we don’t need them.

Mothers, you know what I mean. Fathers, many of you do, too. But since I am a mama and since feelings of guilt function in such a central way for women, I have christened this “The Mother-Guilt Series.”

Topic No. 1 in The Mother-Guilt Series is about wanting time away from your kids. We all need time for ourselves to recharge, just to be, to put ourselves back on the list, as Oprah says. But when you have younger children, time away from them, just for you, is like oxygen.

Yet time and again I hear people say, “But I’m a mother. I shouldn’t feel this way about my own kids.” As if being a mother makes you the one type of person on the planet who doesn’t need to look after themselves in this way.

I know what they mean, though. Before I had kids, when I was just a “kid-person,” I used to hear women say how much they needed their kids to have an early bedtime, or fantasized about an entire day without them, and think, “Wow, they don’t even sound like they like their kids. When I have kids, I’m never gonna feel this way.”


I must take pity on my former self and not berate her for her naivete. There really is no good way to understand what having kids is like unless you’re in the fire yourself. How could a young me, with my workout schedule and my clean furniture and my possible road-trip plans for the weekend, have ever understood the constant nature of having children?

Especially when they’re young, once you have kids the idea of work completely changes because, in the end, it’s all work now. And so there we are, feeling guilty about needing time away, when sometimes all we want is to clean our pores, catch up on bills or take a walk alone. The younger me laughs at anyone calling a long shower leisure time.

But we absolutely have to deploy our own oxygen masks first, take care of ourselves so that we can continue to take care of everyone else. To do that, we need time away from demands and questions, safety concerns and meal prep. We need time to complete more than one thought, uninterrupted, just to make sure our brains are still working right.

This has no effect whatsoever on how much we love or are attached to our children. It has to do with the nature of work and how you need to recharge to continue being productive (and, you know, not crazy).

To the stay-at-home-moms, I say, you need this! Looking after your kids is your job. You know what happens when you overwork yourself without breaks? Job burnout, that’s what. I know you already have guilt about giving up your career, or that your family may be struggling financially. Don’t worry, we’ll attack that one later on in the series.

To the employed moms, I say, you need this! Your work schedule never ends (and in traffic on the way home doesn’t count). You need some time where you don't even have to speak or think. I know this is hard to swallow when you already have all that guilt about leaving your little ones with child care providers all day, but … see above.

So, please, tell your partner, beg the grandparents, find a way to hire a sitter and don’t feel bad about it. We all crave time away from our kids. It’s only natural and it's only right. Oh, and I know what you’re thinking now. What on earth will you do first? Exercise, errands, a nap?

I hear you, mamas. Don’t forget to breathe.

miriam piven May 18, 2011 at 02:19 AM
tony Morrison said the most important thing in her life is some space that is hers - a time or place to be you. thanks, Abi. you know that well. mirster
Jen O May 18, 2011 at 03:38 AM
A clean, well-lighted space? A yoga session without sprinting out of the final savasana to get home to the kids? A date without our 4-month-old? (that's right, Lucinda Williams...shouldn't I have all this and passionate kisses?) What about actually feeling like I am more than a mediocre teacher and mother because I do both? Ah, the mama-guilt is thick!
Abi Cotler O'Roarty May 18, 2011 at 04:51 AM
Thanks Jen and Miriam. Yes, it IS thick. I often see a clean hotel room for one. No cleaning, no list, and a very big very comfy bed!
Casey O'Roarty May 18, 2011 at 03:04 PM
Well said Abi - I feel as though that guilt is always there, small and quiet most of the time, but there. It is so liberating to remember that this is something that all mothers struggle with. :) Love you!
Megan Pincus Kajitani June 02, 2011 at 05:04 AM
Touche', Abi! And, yes, there is that final question -- when I actually get the hour and I am paralyzed about what to do with it! (Note to self: get more than an hour...) Lovely message. xo


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