parent opinion

HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: "My partner and children went on holiday and I was 'happier' without them."

I’m going to say something a mother is never supposed to say.

Hyperbole and clickbait, yes, but also, in this case, true.

My partner took our kids on holiday for a week and I was happier without them.

Sidenote: Things people never say at kids’ parties. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

I missed them, yes. I was aching to see them when they came back, yes. But while they were gone for those eight days, I was objectively Happier.

I smiled and laughed more. I un-scrunched my forehead. I felt lighter. I was a more productive and creative person. A better worker. A better friend.

I was reaching around for the words to put around how I felt and I just kept coming back to: I feel like myself.

Typing these words, I am in a figurative defensive crouch, in fear of rage and judgement. I am hyper-aware that I’m writing about the temporary separation from my beautiful kids – who are 9 and 7 – from a position of privilege. For a start, it was entirely voluntary – not the case for some dear friends of mine who are separated, who are often aching for their children while they’re with the other parent, and who want to flatten anyone who says to them, ‘It must be so lovely to have a weekend off!’. And from the position of privilege that my kids are healthy enough to be away from me, unlike some I know who need to be constantly present and vigilant for life-threatening health issues. And from the very fact that my children are earth-side, here with me. And, of course, from the position of the privilege of being someone who is a mother at all.

Those are my disclaimers, and they are necessary.

No, I got a week “off” because my partner, Brent, needed to take the kids to visit his family in New Zealand, and I had a lot of work to do so I stayed behind. Also, we were trying to save a few dollars. So I stayed behind.

It was the first time I have been alone in my home for almost 10 years, and I had completely underestimated how much I missed it.

Acres of words have been written about women’s loss of identity in motherhood. About that door you step through when you become a parent – the invisible barrier you cross between who you were before an enormous part of your life was swallowed by relentless obligation to care for someone else before yourself. There’s so much beauty in that transition, and so much growth and so much joy.

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But there is also pressure, overwhelming responsibility, and stress.

 

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Parents live with a level of constant stress that non-parents do not. It’s just true. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t other situations you can find yourself in life that aren’t anxiety-inducing, of course there are, but day-to-day, parents are living with the constant stress of falling short of meeting someone else’s needs. Someone who you love more than you love yourself. You couldn’t possibly live without them, and it’s on you to keep them alive. And fed. And clothed. And safe. And well-adjusted. And entertained. And where they’re supposed to be.

And when that stress was temporarily lifted, even though I didn’t know it was there, it was glorious.

You know what I rediscovered on my holiday from parenthood? Time. Without the demands of a partner and two children, suddenly, there was oodles of it.

And I could spend this time however I wanted.

Do I just want to lie on my bed and read for an hour? Yes.

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Do I want to stay late at the office so I can leave feeling organised? Yes.

Do I want to watch back-to-back Will and Grace reruns until after midnight? Yes.

Do I want to work in bed until 11pm? Yes.

Do I want to get up, just have a shower and go to work? Yes.

Do I want to meet my friend for a coffee, let that coffee turn into a walk and then let that walk turn into lunch? Yes.

Do I want to spend today writing, visiting the fridge periodically and then reward myself with a large glass of my favourite wine on the lounge tonight? Also yes.

My thoughts slowed down. There was space in my mind for ideas.

I felt like I was moving through the world on my own terms. And I remembered how much I used to love that.

It made me feel Happy. There was a literal spring in my step.

I felt like I was having a guilty affair, and the thrill was new. It was an affair with myself, and solitude.

 

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On the day my family came home, I was almost desperate to see them. I had that feeling that you used to get when you first fall in love, and you know you’re going to see your newly beloved, and your stomach is fragile, and your heart’s racing and you can’t suppress a giggle every time you think of them.

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That made me feel Happy, too.

And then they came back. And I inhaled them. It’s always the smell of your child’s hair that will get you, and it’s never smelled better than when your nose has been away from it for a few days.

And their stories tumbled out, and Brent said, ‘You look well,’ and the house immediately filled with noise, and mess and questions, “Where’s my….?” “Can I have a….?” “Why isn’t there any…” And the washing mountain reappeared, as if by magic, in moments.

Psychologists say that aiming for “happiness” is a false ideal. That a full life that can weather highs and lows is a more useful goal. Because happiness is fleeting. And it’s always sullied. Perhaps by a washing mountain.

And I thought about that as my “happiness” evaporated, pricked by the needles of stress and expectation.

And I thought about how exceptionally lucky I am, to have two worlds, even if one of them I only get to visit every, let’s say, 10 years.

So I’m saying something mothers are not supposed to say, because there should be no shame in needing to revisit yourself sometimes.

No shame at all.

This story originally appeared in Holly Wainwright’s weekly newsletter. You can get more stories like it by subscribing to her weekly newsletter, here. You can also follow Holly on Instagram, here. Facebook, here. Or buy her novels, here.

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