Leaving Kids Without Guilt

This week, I’m leaving my kids for the longest stretch I’ve ever left them—six days—locking me into less-than-a-week status but still taking up two rows on the April calendar. When I originally confirmed the trip months ago, I expected I might feel a little guilty as my departure date grew closer, prompted by tucking kids in bed at night and looking into cherubic faces that motherhood’s twisted guilt inducers would translate to read, “You’re leaving me, Mom? Really?” But surprisingly, I’m feeling completely not guilty, your honor. Not that I’m not sad to be away from them that long; I’ll climb into bed for six nights, craving the smiles and hugs I missed that day. But guilt is rooted in feelings of wrongdoing or inadequacy, and I don’t feel one bit inadequate or wrong for making the choice to spend some time away from my kids to foster areas outside of motherhood.

In fact, I’ll be honest. The responsibility level and exhaustion rate of having three kids has hit some new highs lately. That may or may not have to do with the fact that in one week, I fished two toothbrushes out of a clogged toilet, mopped up a baby powder mess, iced one goose-egg, changed thirty-two diapers, delivered one carefully-planned Calm Down speech to a big sister who found little sister’s scribbles all over her homework, left one load of laundry in the washer past the stink-proof limit and forced three fake smile-so-you-don’t-cry grins. Six days away from home isn’t looking too shabby right now.

More than just redeeming my patience through deserved time away though, this trip comes with the satisfaction of giving my kids a gift. Not only am I giving them the opportunity to practice thriving in different circumstances and with different people (can’t learn it until you try it); I’m setting an example that I hope they follow, whether they have kids or not: explore your world, connect with people, take care of yourself, get involved in something. As I explained to my oldest daughter the other night what I’ll be doing on my trip—meeting other writers, talking about a hobby I love, telling stories, listening to others’ stories, going for hikes, taking pictures—I watched as she absorbed it, storing it in the “Things Moms Do” file, right next to “take care of us” and “love us.”

This isn’t the last of my traveling this year, and though kissing their temples and holding them tight for one more “I love you, I’ll miss you, but I’ll be back” always stings while it happens, I’m more confident in my decision to take time away. I feel and see the benefits within our own family, even though traveling comes with inconveniences. I’m happier, they’re more resilient, and we’re all becoming more relaxed and open to the revolving door of life’s opportunities and the sacrifices we all make to embrace them.

And the best part? Coming home. With stories and lessons and experiences that make me more aware of my strengths and weaknesses and more conscious of the world around me. That in itself makes me a better mom.