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Time out! Why (and how) moms take time for themselves

Published on: November 01, 2009

Mommy spa

Steffani Zachry-Holubec is running away from home. Well, temporarily. The high school art teacher and mother of two says chucking it all to spend time at an artist’s workshop is actually good for her family.

Several months later, Zachry-Holubec reflects on her days spent at the historic Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos, New Mexico — far away from her home in Houston. “For me, the trip was a great affirmation of my artistic skills, but more importantly, it made my family stronger,” she says. “I think my kids and husband appreciated me more, and I felt like I had gained some confidence and much-needed rest.”

Lake Forest Park psychotherapist and grandmother Elizabeth Clark Stern knows the feeling. “The parenting journey is relentless in its joys and its demands,” she says. “No one can really prepare you for it, no matter how many books you read.”

The ‘unlived life’
Clark Stern paraphrases her favorite quotation, by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung: “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their children than the unlived life of the parent.”

“I love this quote,” Clark Stern says. “I wish I had heard this reference to the ‘unlived life’ and taken it to heart when I was parenting my daughters in their early years. Like most moms, I simply wasn’t prepared for how overwhelming it can be to care for an infant 24/7. Looking back on it, I think some of my frustration and burnout could have been avoided if I had been proactive about structuring ‘me’ time, right from the beginning.”

What are some signs that you need to take a break? Clark Stern says that symptoms of “mom burnout” run the gamut: sleeplessness, eating too much or too little, irritability, outbursts of crying or rage, lethargy, exhaustion, feelings of worthlessness, resentment, envy, anxiety, depression, and loss of interest in sex or “quality” intimate time with your partner. Sometimes you can go into “overdrive,” getting too perfectionistic about the care of the baby, housework or being a “perfect mom.” Or you can simply feel unexcited about life, not caring what you look like, what you wear.

Reclaim your life
Moms can start reclaiming their lives by letting others take on some of the parenting duties, says Clark Stern. “It can cause a lot of conflict and pain in a relationship when the mom takes on a disproportionate burden in child rearing. If she is reticent to ask her partner to take the child for a weekend for fear that he can’t handle it, this is another way of treating him like a child. It can also be a way of inflating your own primary significance to the baby. Both parents both need one-on-one time with the child, to establish the special nature of their relationship.”

To begin taking more time for yourself, you can start small. Instead of the drive-through, go inside a coffeehouse, and sip and read a while. If you can’t take time away from your tots, take ‘em along. Our area is rich in kid-friendly coffeehouses and hybrid kid-and-mom enrichment businesses (such as the Orange Blossom Society in Redmond). There your child can play or take a class while you enjoy a cup of coffee, visit with a friend or jump onto the Internet. Or join a fitness facility that offers child care (like Bellevue’s Samena Club; there are many others). Check out a drop-in child care center (like The Nest, in Woodinville). Plan a kid-free Friday night by checking out the “kids’ night out” options offered by many area organizations and schools, including The Moonpaper Tent, My Gym and others.

Graduate to taking a weekend away — alone, or with friends. You don’t have to hop a plane to get that “getting away” feeling. Local resorts, including Snoqualmie’s Salish Lodge and Spa, Suncadia in Cle Elum and Skamania resort in Stevenson often offer weekend spa retreat specials that allow you to relax in beautiful surroundings and enjoy great spa treatments. If you are on a tight budget, you can still escape: Offer to housesit while a friend vacations! Set yourself up for uninterrupted movie watching and reading great books (other than Goodnight Moon).

Take time away to pursue a neglected passion, such as art, yoga or kayaking. Many Northwest moms plan annual “domestic jail breaks” to attend the spring and fall ArtFest and JournalFest conferences at Fort Worden State Park on the Olympic Peninsula. Discover Yoga in Redmond offers weekend retreats on Whidbey Island. During the summer, Outdoor Odysseys on San Juan Island offers three-day guided Women on Water (WOW) trips for beginner to advanced paddlers.

Some moms really commit to recharging their batteries by taking a week or more away. Jamie Werner is a San Diego public relations executive and a mom of two girls younger than 5. In August, she traveled to Costa Rica to practice yoga and learn to surf with Pura Vida Adventures, a women’s surf and yoga retreat in Malpais, Costa Rica. “Going on this trip solo made me remember that I am a person, not just a mom. What I realized was that by me taking some time away, I was able to give my family so much more.”

Writer Kathleen F. Miller has escaped without her two kids in tow over the past decade to attend art workshops locally and nationally.

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