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How a Mom Sabbatical Can Change You

It's official. I'm on a mom sabbatical. It's been over a month since my 8-year-old son went to live full-time with his father so that I could go back to work and revitalize my exhausted spirit. I'm surprised how much peace I've been able to enjoy during the last few weeks.

At first, I was overwhelmed with not just guilt, but also a sort of strange emptiness. So much of my identity was drawn from being a mother and so much of my daily experience had centered around caring for my son that I felt a little lost. I had allowed my sense of self-worth to become utterly entangled with my son's accomplishments. I'd been through bouts of very bad depression (interrupted by less-bad bouts of depression), for a while. And I desperately needed to get back in touch with who I was.

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In the six weeks that my son has been with his father, I've gotten over the initial discomfort and have allowed the space in my brain to turn toward some self-care. I've been able to set (and work toward!) some realistic goals to get out of the mental and financial ruts I've been in. It's the "before and after" that has helped me see clearly how consuming modern parenting can be. Toss a child with special needs into the mix of organized sports, play dates, food allergies, developmental milestones and parent-participation-required group meetings, and life is nothing but one task after another after another.

This time away from my son has given me space to think about me for a change. I'm no longer obsessed ...

I've often tried to shake the modern-day curse of hyper-parenting by reminding myself how little parenting I had. With two parents that were drug addicted and an aging grandma who often fell asleep before the sun set, for the most part I raised myself. Yes, I had rules to abide by and expectations to fulfill, plus the moral reach of religion served to rein me in, somewhat, as a teen. But I was often on my own.

I used public transportation regularly and played outdoors and in the homes of my neighbors. I spent countless unsupervised hours at the local pool during the summer and walked the streets of my neighborhood after dark. I'm talking Watts, OK? I remind myself of this as a way to recall what humans are made of. We have an ability to adjust and thrive. And while today's parents wouldn't dream of sending their child off on a public bus, I feel like it's important to give my son some freedom. I'd like him to discover the independent, curious spirit I was able to develop as a child and made me a confident and resourceful adult.

This time away from my son has given me space to think about me for a change. I'm no longer obsessed about his odd passion for guns (toys, of course) and if that means he will grow up to be a murderer. I have not once thought about if he's wiping himself correctly after using the bathroom (OK I thought about it just now). But for the most part, my thoughts are streamlined and simple. What time do I need to get up to be at work? What shall I do with the unstructured time I have today? And finally, I notice how relaxed I am and how good that feels.

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I know I'm fortunate to have an ex-husband who didn't hesitate when I asked for assistance. In the last several weeks he has not made one parenting request of me. He only says he wants me to feel better. He's taking care of all of our son's needs, and that's no small task because the summer schedule is pretty demanding. I am grateful, and I have every confidence based upon my son's joy levels when I see him, which is about once a week, that he's being well-loved by his dad. And it's a great joy to say that during my much-needed mom sabbatical, I get to be well-loved by me.

Image via Twenty20/alaskangeles

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