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Why great escapes make better moms

Published on: August 26, 2010

Happy momScroll down for 7 ways to ease separation.

As Marnie Holen prepared for her first vacation without her husband and young kids, she instructed her preschooler: “Make sure Dad serves you one green thing every day.” Following Holen’s fabulous week away with friends, her eldest announced, “Dad had us eat lots of green stuff. He made lime Jell-O!”

Holen, a Mercer Island resident, saw the humor and realized that by leaving town, she had helped her husband and boys establish their own routines and relationship. A week without balanced meals didn’t give the kids rickets, but did provide them with a more balanced household.

Many moms of young kids feel too guilty taking “personal time off” to recharge. But the truth is, a break is good for all of you. “If I’m not taking care of my own well-being, I can’t be the kind of mom my kids need and deserve,” says Seattle mom Sara Vichotte, who recently traveled abroad with a high school friend.

Following are the 10 reasons why the gal who goes away comes back a better mom:

  1. Banish burnout. Motherhood is a 24/7 job; “to-dos” surround you, and your workday continues until you collapse in bed. Vacations from paid jobs are encouraged, so why not take a break from mommy-hood? Getaways with good girlfriends give you a mental and physical respite from what is arguably the world’s hardest — and yet most rewarding — job. You’ll return home happier and more effective, and the memories will carry you through the darkest days of parenthood. “When I got back from Europe, I felt like my cup had been refilled,” says Vichotte.

  2. Choose child-unfriendly activities. When traveling with girlfriends, you can focus on what makes you — not just your spouse or child — happy. You can enjoy child-unfriendly activities, such as foreign films, dinosaur-free museums or hilly bike rides; you can spend an afternoon reading gossip magazines or start cocktail hour at 3 p.m. New experiences add to your allure and promote interesting discussions back home. “You have something to talk about other than what Johnny did on the playground that day,” says Kimberly Barenborg, who first toured Giverny when she had three preschoolers.

  3. Get girlfriend time. Young mothers lacking in emotional support have more than three times the risk of mental health problems, according to a 2007 American Journal of Public Health article. In the past, aunts and grandmas offered that support; now, with families so dispersed, it’s up to our girlfriends. Yet we often neglect those relationships, and “girlfriend time” becomes double dates or play dates. “Women have an extra need for connecting,” says Colleen Schneider, a Mercer Island–based mother of six, who hikes and camps with good friends. “We can strengthen our relationships — and get the support we need — through travel and adventures together.”

  4. Delegate to dad. We moms can get a bit power-hungry. We like the house looking “just so”; keep tight meal-, bed- and bath-time routines; and serve “appropriate” foods. Face it, when dad takes the reins, life runs “differently.” When you’re gone, he can establish his own relationship and routines with the kids — without a hypercritical spouse hovering. If he wants to serve fast-food, let the laundry pile up and keep TV on all day — that’s OK. Plus, the more dad is left in charge, the more he’ll see the value of routines and consistency, and may gain the confidence and desire to pitch in more, so you’ll feel less taxed and resentful.

  5. Stop and think. A joke that circulates through the mommy network really resonates with young moms, who often feel underappreciated: Dad returns from work to find his kids undressed; clothes, toys and snacks strewn about; and dishes piled up in the sink. When he asks what’s up, his wife replies, “You know how you always ask me what I did during the day, and I can never remember? Well, today I didn’t do it.”

  6. Sleep straight through. Most moms hear every cough coming from their kids’ rooms, and suffer through their spouse’s snoring or break-of-dawn, ringing alarm clock. Recent studies have revealed that sleep deprivation can cause obesity and disease, but also, we all know, irritability and loss of focus. After a few nights of sound sleep out of town, without interruptions from little (and big) bodies snuggling in, you’ll feel more positive and patient.

  7. Eat play live. When writer Linda Rorem’s firstborn arrived, her sister-in-law offered sage advice for dining out: “As soon as the food arrives, get the check. You may need to make a quick getaway.” On a mommy retreat, you can linger over meals without fear of meltdowns or frantic calls from the sitter. You can choose what, when and where you want to eat. Back at home, you’ll be recharged from a stretch of fun, relaxing meals.

  8. Find yourself again. As moms, we take on a host of new roles — chef, chauffeur, tutor, trainer, counselor, cleaner and social planner — and we forget who we really are. On vacation, you might recall that your humor isn’t limited to knock-knock jokes and that you enjoy “chapter books.” Seattle resident Erika Lindsay recalls that when she traveled to Tuscany — without her toddler and husband — for her BFF’s destination wedding, “I could finally complete full sentences, and I rediscovered indulgences like reading and visiting museums.” When you return home, you’ll remember that you’re a mother and partner who’s also fun, funny, savvy, sexy, interested and interesting.

  9. Ban kid-centricity. Don’t worry about missing a T-ball game or preschool performance while gallivanting with the gals. Many kids today never learn to participate in activities for their own pleasure; they do it for approval and applause. “If a child is always the center of attention . . . [he] will become attention-addicted,” wrote Elaine Gibson on in December 2008. “In a few years, [that becomes] a serious problem.” While you’re away, your kids will gain the knowledge and confidence that their friends and activities are for their own fulfillment. It’s good for you to know that, too.

  10. Let it be. While you’re away, problems will crop up at home — they always do. Critical machinery (dryers, refrigerators) breaks, children get hurt, and favorite toys disappear. When marketing specialist Tamae Moriyasu returned from a girlfriends trip, she felt shocked (and a bit guilty) to see her 5-year-old’s arm in a cast; dad and daughter had dealt with the situation. Your household will function — albeit in a different way — without your constant supervision. With that realization, you may learn to let go and let life take its own course.

When you’re off with the gals, your kids and husband will miss all that you usually do, and the break will give you a new perspective. “You transport yourself to another world, and then you come back to your world and appreciate it more,” says Schneider.

“What children need is a happy mother . . . who possesses a life and an identity that is not completely wrapped up in parenting,” Judith Warner wrote in Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. Clearly, girlfriend getaways have numerous benefits, yet knowing and doing are two different things. Says Schneider: “Looking back, I would say, ‘You need to go, you really need to go.’ I wish I had known that sooner.”

Carol Gullstad is a business strategist who formerly worked for General Mills, Inc. Linda Williams Rorem is a writer and editor who formerly worked for Time magazine. They are writing a book about guilt-free girlfriends’ getaways.

Seven ways to ease the separation

Here's how to prepare your family and keep them happy so you can do it again!
As you prepare for your fabulous getaway, focus on lining everything up at home, so you won’t leave your family floundering and resentful. Nothing kills a vacation buzz quicker than coming home to a messy, chaotic, unhappy household.

1. Set the schedule.

Type up a detailed schedule for each day that you’re away, including what time to awaken kids, what they need for day care or school, what meals to serve and when kids need baths. Be sure to list every conceivable phone number — doctor, dentist, schools, coaches, caregivers, friends for play dates, etc.

2. Take care of logistics.

Set up rides/carpools and play dates to free your spouse or caregivers(s) from those tasks. Be sure to list names, addresses and phone numbers for every driver and play-date friend.

3. Give me a break!

Consider scheduling a night out (a gift certificate for dinner or tickets to an event) for your spouse/caregiver while you’re gone, to give them a break. Don’t forget to line up a baby-sitter.

4. Plan ahead.

One of the reasons you’re leaving town is to get a break from the laundry, dishes and shopping. But if you don’t tackle those chores before you leave, you may come back to an unwieldy and stress-producing mess. Before your departure, ensure all dirty clothes are washed and folded, the fridge is full, and dishes are washed, dried and stashed in the right places.

5. Manage mealtimes.

While you’re gone, the kids just might live on fast-food, Cheetos and cold pizza. If so, don’t criticize your spouse or caregiver: One week of junk food never hurt anyone. But you can increase the odds for healthy meals if you stock the fridge with prepared meals.

6. Leave letters behind.

Leave one note for each child to open every day, mentioning your plans for that day (e.g., “This afternoon I’m going to the Eiffel Tower. It has 1,665 steps!” or “We’re visiting a museum today. Remember when you saw the dinosaurs in New York?”). Be sure to tell the kids you love them and can’t wait to share your experiences.

7. Phone home.

Before you leave, ask your spouse/caregiver’s advice for phoning home. Do they anticipate calls to be helpful or disruptive? When you do call, tell the kids you love them, ask specifics about their day and mention funny situations or people you have encountered. If they seem distant, no worries; remember that it’s hard to be left behind!

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