Since becoming a mom, Choni Evans has only been on two trips without her children. However, the first experience was more nerve-wracking than the second.
Her youngest child was sick and, despite knowing he was safe at home with his dad, she still felt nervous. Evans was heading to her cousin’s bachelorette party in Charlotte. Her cousin was more like a sister and she didn’t want to miss her special day. However, leaving her baby made her feel guilty.
“His dad assured me they will be fine,” Evans said. “But I kept thinking, ‘What mother would leave her sick baby to go party?’”
What Evans felt is described as mom guilt. According to the Cleveland Clinic, mom guilt is the feeling of guilt experienced when a parent feels they aren’t living up to parental role expectations. This same guilt can be experienced by fathers and any type of caregiver who feels they aren’t meeting society’s standard in regard to care.
For many mothers, mom guilt can easily set in when they’re traveling solo. Evans highlighted that once women have children, it’s easy to forget about self-care. A lot of time is spent caring for children so leaving them for long periods of time can cause guilt and anxiety.
“Our kids become our life to the point we forget who we are,” she said. “So when we get opportunities to get away instantly we feel guilty or scared something will happen while we’re not around.”
Mom Guilt Is Real
Feelings of extreme guilt can lead to stress. Functional medicine specialist Melissa Young, MD told Cleveland Clinic that chronic guilt and stress prevents the nervous system from slowing down. This constant fight-or-flight stress response can lead to other diseases like anxiety, depression, and increased blood pressure.
“When you think about the long-term effects, you realize that relieving yourself of your guilt isn’t a luxury,” Dr. Young said. “It’s a necessity.”
Despite it being necessary to relieve feelings of guilt and stress, entrepreneur Yaz Quiles says many moms are shamed for traveling without their children, whether for business or fun. Having a good support system has helped her overcome mom guilt when traveling alone. However, she has been shamed for traveling without her daughter and says it’s an “old and antiquated way of thinking.”
“The notion that once you’re a mom you are no longer human is ridiculous,” Quiles said. “We, as moms, need to rest, recharge, reconnect with other adults and most importantly ourselves. Trips away from family allow you the opportunity to tap into yourself.”
Remembering To Nurture Self
Publicist and mom Lakesha Cole takes trips without her kids at least four times a year. She encourages other moms to take kid-free trips as well. It isn’t about getting away from her responsibilities, but a way to nurture herself.
“Carving out this ‘me time’ isn’t about being away from my family, but rather rejuvenating myself for them,” Cole said. “Recharging in this way lets me return as a more present mom and partner.”
Although she has four sons, Brittinni Vaughn says traveling without them makes space for her to dedicate time back to herself. She says mothers shouldn’t wait until their children are adults to begin establishing routines to give back to themselves.
“You may be a mother, but you have to take care of yourself,” Vaughn said. ”You don’t want to sit here and wait until your kids are gone and grown and moved on living their own lives and you’re sitting here trying to put the pieces of yourself together; trying to figure out yourself and trying to figure out who you are. Just because you are a mom doesn’t mean you have to stop living your life.”
Vaughn also encourages millennial and Gen-Z parents to continue taking their mental health seriously. She said she doesn’t feel like mental wellness was as important to past generations. While parents and grandparents may criticize young adults for traveling without their children, Vaughn says taking care of self helps people to be better parents.