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The Unexpected Benefits of Taking a Year Off From My Son

Photograph by Twenty20

It’s been over a year since my son moved in with his father full-time. When I agreed to this transition, I had no idea how the time would pass, what I would do with myself, what difficulties I’d face, and the overall benefits I would receive from the time alone.

I agreed to change our situation because I was depressed. It felt like I was drowning beneath life’s events and my son felt like an additional challenge. My son has Down syndrome and I’d spent all his life trying to get him into various programs that would meet his developmental needs. Although I’d found a lot of support, the process had just beaten me up. I couldn’t get off the sofa most of the time. I was worried about money and about what would come next for our family. Finding a lump on my breast was the last straw. I was deep in the darkness and unclear how to find my way out.

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It’s rare for moms to give themselves the permission to put ourselves first, to acknowledge our needs and see to them before those of our children.

But I knew that I couldn’t let the depression control me forever. I took care of my health, and relied on tools like yoga and meditation to help me rebound. What I did not expect was how my son responded to our time apart. (We spend more time together now, but at first he stayed with me one night a month.) Initially, when he returned to me he would cry rivers asking for his daddy. In some ways this hurt my feelings, but it was reassuring that he felt safe and cared for with his father, so it was brought peace too. Eventually the river of tears stopped rolling when I’d get him from his dad’s, and we found new ways to have fun together. During the summer we visited the bowling alley weekly (he loves to bowl!) and the beach every weekend.

As for me, I have a new lease on motherhood. I’m no longer anxious about my son’s future and his father and I work together with other family members to supplement his education. We’ve also started holding the school and teachers accountable and requesting more support for our son. This furthers the attention he gets and reinforces our belief in him. My sabbatical has also allowed me to indulge my pleasures. I slept late, made fresh juice, and surfed. I prepared a lot of organic foods and juices. I learned to relax, something I hadn’t done since my son was born. I honestly believe my son enjoys me more because I’m so calm.

It’s rare for moms to give themselves the permission to put ourselves first, to acknowledge our needs and see to them before those of our children. It’s as if our lives stop when our children’s lives begin. But when an unexpected guest like depression or illness invites itself in, we must learn to make ourselves the priority. Putting any and everything, including our children, aside for a season.

I realized I’m blessed to have an ex-husband who understands my well-being is important and needs to be nurtured. He also enjoys fatherhood, so he easily took up the mantle and carried our son further than I could have in an emotionally compromised position. I learned that mothers need help, they need time alone, and they need to live guilt-free if they are going to be good for themselves and their children.

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