wellness

'I chose to go on holiday without my daughter. The worst responses I got were from mums.'

I’m laying in the sun on Waikiki Beach, gazing out over the water with a huge idiotic smile on my face. I’m in complete holiday mode as I sip a famous umbrella-and-maraschino-cherry-topped Mai Tai from the Royal Hawaiian’s beachfront bar and contemplate whether to go for another swim or just lay back and read my book. 

It doesn’t matter, I can do whatever I want, because I'm all alone. 

I am taking a break from the responsibilities of being a mum, and this holiday is all about focusing on me. I’m loving it.

That I had the audacity to enjoy myself without my 12-year-old daughter Emmie annoyed some people, though. 

Mums taking time away from their children can be a divisive subject, and while I received a lot of support, the ones who disagreed were quick to let me know.

"I love my children too much to ever leave them like you have," was the most popular criticism, followed by, "How could you leave your daughter?" and "Don’t you think it’s selfish to holiday without your kids?". 

The worst messages were from mums, who felt that they needed a break but were too afraid to make it happen.

"I wish I could holiday like you, but I’m afraid of the judgement."

"My friends are all perfect mums. I’d look like a failure if I took a break. But I need one."

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It hadn’t been easy for me to leave my daughter, but I really needed some time to myself. We’d travelled together for years, we’d been through lockdown. I was trying to settle back into living in the burbs and understand the tween that had suddenly appeared in my home. 

I knew a break would be good for me and would help me be a better mum. It would probably be good for Emmie, too. (To be honest, I don’t think mums need to justify why we need a break, but for the sake of context, this is mine. You don’t need to). Luckily, my wonderful mum was more than happy to look after Emmie while I was away.

The critical mums saw my time away from Emmie as a gluttonous escape by an uncaring mother. In my opinion, time alone is a requirement for being a good one. 

Having a break from one of the most demanding roles in the world shouldn’t be seen as a choice. It shouldn’t be a decision that mums have to fight for, agonise over and defend against the inevitable judgement and ‘one-up-mum-ship’. It should be part of the job description.

But because time away from the kids is seen as a choice, many mums are too nervous to take it and open themselves to judgement and condescension.

And that’s why we need annual leave from motherhood.

In other jobs, we see annual leave as a necessity to avoid burnout, dissatisfaction, and mental health issues. In fact, if you don’t take your holidays within the 12 months you’re supposed to, many companies will force you to take the time off.

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In every job I’ve ever had, I’ve taken annual leave each year. Every. Single. Job. And on that annual leave I’ve gone on a holiday or I’ve just rested, I’ve caught up on life admin and invested in self-care - maybe a massage, a day at the beach or even a day in bed eating ice cream and watching a movie. I’ve used my annual leave to top up my sleep, wellness and happiness buckets and I’ve returned to work feeling revived and inspired. 

I’ve been entitled to, and have taken, annual leave in every job I’ve ever had - except the one where I need it the most: Mum.

Taking a break from mothering doesn’t mean we don’t love our kids. It means that we love ourselves too. Until we have annual leave in our job description, getting that time out without the associated guilt and criticism - whether a day or a week to ourselves - will remain difficult.

Annual leave removes the unspoken (and often spoken) judgement placed on mums who are honest about needing a break and who take time from their kids and family. It shouldn’t be on mums (because everything is on us) to put up our hand and say we need time to ourselves.

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How do we do it? Well, this part is going to be up to us. We need to make the change.

We need to talk about annual leave and including it in our vocabulary and our conversations. Plan for it at the beginning of each year, as we would for a holiday in a recognised job. A girl’s trip? Part of our annual leave. A mini-break alone? Part of our annual leave. 

Ask each other - how are you spending your annual leave this year? Where are you going? What are you doing? And support mums who are taking leave - even if you might not agree with it. We’re all different and there’s no harm in sending a kind comment someone’s way. In fact, there’s no reason not to.

Taking a break doesn’t mean we don’t want to be a mum, but being a mum is not all that we are. So, let’s change our mindsets - establish annual leave within your job description and take it, just like I did.

I’ll be putting in another leave request (to myself) very soon. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be approved.

Evie Farrell spends most of her time traveling with – and without – her daughter. Follow her adventures on Instagram at mumpacktravel and at www.mumpacktravel.com.

Feature Image: Instagram @mumpacktravel.

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