Back in April after much deliberation, my son, his father and I decided that Emmanuel would remain in California for the remainder of his high school career as opposed to joining me in Paris. We let Emmanuel make the decision and he approached it with thoughtfulness and sensitivity. All in all, he had made great friends at a school that he loves and he just didn’t want to make another transition. He even spoke with a guidance counselor about the alternative pathways he could take to becoming a chef. I was really proud of him.
So, now that I have essentially handed over custody to Emmanuel’s father for the next three years, I am staring at a future and a life I had never expected. I have been so grateful for this year to myself. Through grace and the love of many, I have enjoyed a year of self-reflection, travel, culture and even lost passions. I have taken on a new identity as a writer and I have been blessed by support and love as I have dared to speak to the issues that face the world around us.
I recently read an article in The Guardian titled A Woman’s Greatest Enemy? A Lack of Time to Herself by Brigid Schulte. Her overall thesis is that women both now and throughout history have never been afforded the time to truly create their dreams as they are saddled by demands from which men are often freed. Her analysis is pretty bleak and supported by substantial evidence as she recounts the lives of famous men and the women by their sides, who suppressed their own dreams and creativity in support of them. Schulte cites everyone from Freud to Mahler to Bruce Springsteen.
One critical point that Schulte makes is that research has shown that not only do women not have the time, but “many women don’t feel that they deserve long stretches of time to themselves, the way men do. They feel they have to earn it. And the only way to do that is to get to the end of a To Do list that never ends.. .” I often questioned my own merit for this “mom”bbatical experience–this extraordinary time to myself. The days spent sitting on the banks of the Seine viewing some of the world’s most beautiful monuments, I found myself in awe of my own fortune while secretly wondering if I was doing some kind of harm to my son.
As I contemplated and accepted that I did deserve this time for myself, I wondered if perhaps the “mom”bbatical is not just the reality of time, but also a mindset. A frame of mind that reminds us that we are not simply defined by the roles we hold. Mothers are in tact individuals deserving of exploration and growth, as are our children. When we maintain our own personal identity and boundaries, we do them a beautiful service as well. My son’s sense of independence and self was jarring to me during our recent time to together. I was in awe of his ability to maintain his personal boundaries and to ground me when I lost a grip on mine.
One night while visiting with my mother, I became annoyed by her persistent chatter about her new dishwasher. She felt it was too small and I kept trying to remind her that there were four more people in her home than usual using dishes three times a day. She kept arguing her point. I finally retreated from the conversation in frustration and found myself fussing with Emmanuel over the fact that he was laying around in bed doing nothing. Yet, he was not rattled by the abruptness of my tone or interruption. He simply looked at me and asked, “Are you okay?” He disarmed me with the skill of a Jedi.
It is in these moments that I am reminded that our children are not intended to be the targets, stewards or receptacles for our emotional needs.
“What I’m talking about is reclaiming the enduring space in our minds and hearts that holds our emotional and spiritual lives at the front and center.”
Which brings me back to the “mom”bbatical. This time to myself has given me the chance to feed my emotional, spiritual and creative self. It was so much more than self-care. The occasional spa day and mani/pedi are important, but those should be entitlements for any and every woman–not some special moment in time that is intended to make up for the daily suppression of our emotional and spiritual needs in service to our roles as wife, mother, employee, woman.
What I’m talking about is reclaiming the enduring space in our minds and hearts that holds our emotional and spiritual lives at the front and center. To journey to an enlightened place that says we are enough and that we deserve all of the beauty, peace, and love that life has to offer while co-existing as mothers, wives, leaders, daughters, and sisters. For me, this journey started with a break from the daily demands of parenting, yet I know that even if I were to resume those responsibilities, the space that I created for myself would still exist. I could no longer have it any other way.
As a Gen X woman, I am often surprised when I observe the lives of my contemporaries. Women who hold the highest of degrees, who have achieved feats beyond measure in their fields still succumbing to the archetypal roles our mothers fought against in the Women’s Liberation movement. One extraordinarily talented friend of mine recently had to forego her personal time to wash her daughter’s hair after an unexpected showdown with a mud puddle. Her husband simply “doesn’t do hair.” Really? And then she proceeded to blame herself for not planning her time better.
It’s time to change the narrative and to make the “mom”bbatical a real thing for mothers and women who are the caretakers of the world. It’s not just about time, it’s a mindset that our very lives depend on.
Schulte references Virginia Woolf’s own imagination about “a woman with genius. . .” whose “ability to blossom–and the expectation that her voice, her vision, was worthy–would depend entirely on the world we decided to create.” It’s time to create that world.
I’ll soon be launching a Facebook group titled “The Art of the “Mom”bbatical”, a place for all women who dare to embrace the space within themselves that is whole, creative and at peace. It will be a space where we lift each other up as we work to reclaim our emotional, spiritual and creative lives.
The last thing I’ll say is that earlier in this post, I mentioned that during my “mom”bbatical, I wondered whether I was doing my own child harm. During his most recent visit, we walked through the Paris metro and Emmanuel turned to me and said, “You know, it’s pretty badass what you did. You made the decision to move to Paris and you did it.”
No harm done.