'Momcations' Are Great, But We Need More Than That

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and LaylaBird/Getty

Moms are doing all of the work, all of the time—and the weight we carry still exists even if we have a supportive partner. I often blurt out to my husband that being in charge of five people–myself and our four children–is exhausting. Society tells moms that there’s a magical solution to our mom-woes. We can avoid reaching our breaking point. All we have to do is go on a momcation.

A momcation–in case you haven’t heard–is when a mom takes a vacay with the goal of immersing herself in self-care. She might head to spa, go glamping, fly to a tropical destination, or check into a nearby hotel to simply do nothing at all. Sometimes she’ll meet her girlfriends there—other moms who are also desperate to escape—or she might chill solo. No matter what the plans, mom is supposed to enjoy the pampering, get herself together, and come back refreshed and ready to conquer the world. In theory, it sounds like a dream come true.

The problem? First of all, momcations are privileged. Many women cannot afford to jet off to Jamaica for a weekend of cocktails and sunbathing. Some moms don’t have access to free childcare or the vacation days off work. In my circle of friends, I only have two who take momcations. The rest of us? We’re zipping all over town in our minivans full of kids. So why are psychologists and parenting experts pushing us to get out of Dodge and treat ourselves?

For the select few who can take a momcation, let’s talk about how completely unrealistic they are. Moms are supposed to just shut off their mothering anxieties and put away their mile-long to-do lists and mentally switch to being twenty again? Please. Anyone who is a mom knows that is not how mom-brains work.

Stepping foot in a different town or in a posh hotel doesn’t magically convert us to being free-and-happy. The more someone tells me to relax, the more agitated and stressed I get. I’ve been conditioned for over a decade to always be worrying about my children. I consider it one of my many duties.

The biggest problem with telling moms to just chill out, relax, and enjoy their time away from their families is that we fail to ask—and address–why moms need a break to begin with. Weeks, months, and (more-likely) years of pent-up stress can cause us to wear down to a shell of a person—mechanically performing our every day tasks.

Some of us are emotionally numb, while others of us are an emotional mess. Most of the moms I know are on anxiety medication. We’re carrying around our tumblers of coffee, concealer smeared under our eyes, just trying to do it all. What’s missing is balance.

Balance is achieved on an ongoing — preferably daily — basis—not by attempting to tip the scales with two days of watching cable TV and ordering room service. Not even the most luxurious trip can eradicate the years of sleepless nights, bouts of illness, homework battles, and potty training. Even if we are one of the lucky few who gets to go on a momcation, within five minutes of returning home we’re forced back into our mode of go-and-do.

Honestly, how does anyone expect us to take an uninterrupted momcation anyway? I can’t even take a shower without at least two of my four children popping in to ask for a snack, homework help, or if I could go ahead and sign their field trip permission slip. I haven’t shaved my legs in two months. I can’t remember the last time a curling iron touched my hair. My life is nothing but series of interruptions, demands, questions, and complaints. I’m pretty sure that I should be awarded an honorary college degree in Human Relations.

I am 100% certain that I couldn’t leave my house for even 24 hours without receiving at least a dozen texts with questions about what needs to happen next. It doesn’t matter that I left a detailed list of instructions on the countertop. That will never be enough. To be fair, it might be me texting my spouse, because I worry he’ll forget to read the ingredient lists before feeding our kiddo with a tree nut allergy. Moms are irreplaceable.

I think suggesting to moms that their magical solution to their anxiety, depression, and exhaustion is a momcation is a cop out. It’s BS and lazy. Sending mom out-of-town for a massage and margaritas with her sister isn’t going to remedy years of wear-and-tear. Momcations are bandages—not remedies. If a mom is ready to throw in the towel, ask what she needs now and ongoing instead of ushering her out the door with her suitcase for a quick getaway.

And while we’re on the subject of rejuvenation, no self-help book, written by a mom expert—whatever the hell that means—is going to redeem us from the pit of motherhood. Neither is a retreat or workshop—also thrown by Insta-famous moms, all pushing us to do more, not less, and reminding us that “you are enough.” What about MY needs? Why is everything so focused on being a better mom, a better wife, a better friend?

What do moms need? I’m parenting four kids, each in different life stages, and I think what we need most is daily, real-life support. We need our village to step up and in—without any judgment. We need great girlfriends who will tell-it-like-it-is when it comes to parent-child battles rather than snap, edit, and post perfect pics on social media. We need our partners to go in 50/50 with us, and sometimes—gasp!—take over completely. We need teacher and coaches to cut us some slack when we barely make it on time and when homework isn’t finished.

We need to be loved and honored, not just on Mother’s Day and on our birthdays. We need to be told and shown that we are the absolute best human ever—every single day. Is that selfish, demanding, and extra? Yes, and I won’t apologize for it.

We also need society to stop expecting us to be polished and uncomplicated. We need grown-up permission slips and hall passes. We need grace, second chances, and encouragement. Everything we work so hard to offer our children should also be extended to us. We deserve it. We need it—desperately.

I’m not here for the send-mom-on-a-vacation-and-she’ll-come-back-happy advice. Any mom with any ounce of experience knows an invitation to get away on a momcation is lovely, but superficial. I love some “me time,” but it’s hardly the answer to the 24/7/365 stress I experience as a mom. It’s time to opt for everyday interventions, not occasional relief.

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