It’s been over a year since my son was born, and since his arrival, I have left him only a handful of times. We cook together, shop together, lay together, and play together. He is my exercise and running companion.
I am thankful for his life and his presence. He’s a good baby. A happy baby. An easy, carefree baby.
And he’s an “almost didn’t happen” baby. We struggled to conceive him and lost a pregnancy 7 months before I learned I was carrying him.
But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted.
I work from home, care for him while working at home, and keep the house (more or less) in order. My day starts at 5:00 a.m. and ends well after 10 p.m. — and it’s tough.
I am stressed, depressed, anxious, and tired — so tired I’ve had thoughts of running away. Some days, I want to leave it all behind. It has also put a strain on my relationship: with him, my husband, and my 6-year-old daughter because Mommy is always snapping or napping.
There is no in-between, and I know why. I am overwhelmed and overworked, and I need a break.
Self-care is not a novel concept or a new idea, nor is it limited to parents. In fact, any activity that improves your physical, mental, or emotional well-being can be considered self-care.
Running, for example, is a form of self-care, as is reading, writing, or meditating. But I know me. If I have 5 minutes free, I’ll fill my time with chores. There are clothes to fold and dishes to wash. Calls to make and emails to be answered.
So instead of fighting with myself (and feeling guilty for sitting still or angry at my inability to slow down), I decided to go away.
I packed up the car and headed to Lake George.
The reason I headed upstate was twofold. The area, which sits smack in the middle of the Adirondacks, is great for winter weather activities. But the real reason I went to Lake George is because no one goes to Lake George in the winter.
It’s a summer town, and while there were a few guests staying at the Holiday Inn on Canada Street — the town’s main drag — the halls were quiet. I put my cell phone down, on vibrate mode.
Of course, there are numerous benefits to going away without kids. I was able to stay up late and sleep in. I could sit at a bar and sip on a cocktail or go to a coffee shop and drink the entire beverage before it cooled (or I forgot where I put it).
I could listen to my mind and my body. When I got tired, I could rest. Plans could be changed and cancelled because I wasn’t running on my daughter’s school schedule or dance schedule, or living life between naps. And I could use the bathroom alone.
Yes, that is a luxury when you have two young children.
But the best part of the vacation was when I returned home happy because going away gave me life. I was refreshed and reenergized. I couldn’t wait to see or snuggle with my two young kids.
Make no mistake: It wasn’t easy. I felt guilty leaving my littles. My decision seemed frivolous and indulgent. We, like millions of Americans, are in thousands of dollars of credit card debt.
“I am wasting money,” I thought. “I am wasting everyone’s resources and time.” As a contract employee, I was also losing money. I don’t get sick time or vacation time, and if I take a day off, I just lose income because I do not get paid.
I also felt terribly selfish for wanting to leave.
“I am a bad person,” I thought as I hugged my crying daughter. “I am a terrible mom.”
But after a few days, it hit me. Leaving didn’t make me terrible, staying did because I was running on fumes. I needed to put my oxygen mask on first, and that’s what this vacation did. I was able to breathe.
Taking time off was not a waste, but an investment in my physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
Of course, I know not every parent can take a mini-vacation to recharge their batteries and refresh their mind.
Finding child care can be difficult and expensive, especially if you don’t have family nearby or a “village” to rally behind. And the COVID-19 pandemic has added an extra hurdle.
Taking time off of work is tough, and the financial aspects of the trip are (for many) a challenge. I am lucky. I am privileged. I am #blessed.
However, if you can, do it.
And if not, don’t fret. There are still other ways you can practice self-care, you just may need to be a bit more creative. You will also need to be more disciplined about stopping and sitting down than I am.
But you are worth it. Your children are worth it, and taking 2 hours or even 2 days for yourself doesn’t make you a bad mom, it makes you a better one. I promise.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few. When her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.