The time has come. The stars have aligned. You get to leave the house, and although you’re not lugging a carseat or wet wipes, going somewhere without your children is wrought with emotional baggage. Liberation isn’t as freeing as one would hope; you can expect to feel at least one of these emotions the next time you venture out solo.
One emotion to rule all them all. Save for love, anxiety is parenthood’s signature emotion, and nothing cues it up like going somewhere without your kids. Whether you’re running to the grocery store or going full moms’ night out, be ready for panic to show up beginning, middle, and end. You’ll find yourself laying out clothing, going over schedules, and reminding your capable partner to cut grapes in half. Anything and everything you can do to infantilize the designated caregiver, consider it done.
That heavily vetted babysitter that somehow passed your FBI rated screening process? You might as well have left a kitten in charge. You’ll oscillate between relishing your sweet freedom in the produce section and deciding that the trip to aisle 10 for laundry soap just isn’t in the cards. You have to get home immediately because you just remembered that the neighbors have a pool, and Scary Mommy seems to exclusively publish articles about toddlers drowning.
Be sure to interrupt your time away by firing off a series of texts checking in and requesting pictures. Include unsolicited updates about your own whereabouts such as “Getting ready to leave,” “Leaving now,” “Be home in 10,” etc.
Once you decide that your children are, in fact, with a competent caretaker, you sink deeply into the seat of your minivan, embrace your independence, and reflect on what feels like better times. The trap music is blaring, and all of the sudden, you’re 21 again. Eventually though, you snap out of it.
You remember that the only thing more stressful than raising respectable humans is trying to find an outfit in Forever 21 and dealing with the mixed signals of guys from college. Good riddance. But for three minutes and 35 seconds, you’re 95 percent certain that you’re abandoning your family for the thug life and taking the van with. See ya never.
You had one too many drinks, and let’s face it….when it comes to parenting, one is too many. Even the mildest hangover is exponentially worse when children are involved. There aren’t enough episodes of Daniel Tiger to get you through the morning after you spent a night out pretending to be 21 again. Maybe you were a more reasonable 30-something and just had a few sips of red at Book Club (foolish of you to think this outing would recharge those batteries!); any time away must be made up.
You’ll need your extra boost of energy because you’re about to be thrown into mom-mode full-force upon return. Invariably, the house is a mess, the kids are sticky, and poop is on something. Congratulations on making more work for yourself. You don’t mean to be smug, but your momentary absence has made it pretty clear this family wouldn’t survive without you.
Guilt is the timeless accessory that pairs well with every occasion; it never goes out of style! Don’t leave the house without it (actually, you have no choice). Guilt for wanting to go out, to begin with. Guilt when you do actually go out. Guilt for leaving the child(ren) in the care of your partner all by themselves, which is odd because you somehow manage to take care of them all by yourself regularly.
Days off don’t come with the job description, so it’s hard not to feel like you’re cheating the system when you steal away for a little while. Even if it is to pick up groceries to feed the people you’re charged with keeping alive. Anything longer than a few hours, and you’re sure to spend the next week overcompensating for your absence with trips to the zoo, pancake breakfasts, and Play-Doh.
We’ve all done it; we’ve cashed in our “time away” chips on an event that just didn’t deliver. Childless minutes are scarce, and nothing is worse than spending them on an event or errand that is less than satisfactory or doesn’t live up to your expectations. And let’s face it, we put a lot of pressure on being away from our kids– it’s like seeing Halley’s comet, it’s rare AF, happens what feels like every hundred years, and it should have a magic quality.
It’s a hard pill to swallow when our plans don’t measure up; you realize that hanging out with the little people you love would have been just as great as attending that mildly awkward hangout with people you don’t have anything in common with anymore. You vow to be more selective with your outings in the future.
Maybe a stranger gave you a passing glance and reminded you that you’re more than a snack dispensary or you experienced a conversation that wasn’t interrupted and restarted 17 times before you abandoned it all together. Perhaps you finally got to the “new” restaurant that opened during your last pregnancy (three years ago); regardless, your time away has served you well. It made you feel like a person who happens to also be a mom. Joy is always accompanied by false promises: you’re going to fill your cup with more than coffee and make time for yourself because you’re deserving. And make no mistake, you are, but ride this high! Despite your vow of self-care, it might be a while until you do anything for yourself sans dependents again.
Don’t let the cycle of burn out, build up, let down, and panic keep you from taking care of the person that takes care of everyone else!