By: Meika Rouda
Last month I did the unspeakable, I left my children with my husband and went on a mom’s retreat, alone for 24 hours. I checked into a beautiful hotel about 10 minutes from our house along the San Francisco Bay and read and wrote and didn’t take care of anyone but myself for a whole day and a whole night. I went to the spa and got a massage, I ate at the bar and read a magazine, I sat in the hot tub. I didn’t talk to anyone, no one on my phone and no one, besides my massage therapist and the wait staff at the hotel. It was blissful and yet I had to fight feeling guilty about enjoying it.
The retreat was something I had been thinking about for awhile but couldn’t quite muster up the courage. I am a mother and my kids are my priority so I felt selfish for wanting to spend time alone. Becoming a mother was not easy for me so I felt even more guilty for desiring alone time, like I didn’t appreciate being a mother. I wondered what other people would think when they heard I had gone away alone for a night. They may gossip that Chris and I were having trouble or that I was depressed. Neither of which was true. But one Sunday morning I woke up and said, today is the day I am having my retreat. It was spontaneous and not prompted by anything except a desire for solitude. If I had planned it I would have had a lot of anxiety about the day approaching, I would have meals prepared for Chris and activities planned out and probably wouldn’t have gone in the end. But deciding impromptu to leave was a sign of independence, something I hadn’t indulged in for a long time. And it also empowered Chris to be a caregiver, which he is very capable of, without me micromanaging the process by setting him up with play dates.
When I arrived at the hotel I was giddy as I checked it. “How many guests tonight?” the concierge asked “one- just me.” As soon as I got to my room I lay on the bed and took note of the silence. When I went to lunch I again said “just me” as I was seated at a long communal table. I smiled at the other guests who were entertaining their companions and felt the relief of not worrying about anyone but myself. I paid attention to my surroundings and admired the view. Things I am not able to do when I eat in a restaurant with my kids and am busy feeding a baby or cutting up food for my son while shoving food in my mouth as quickly as possible because I know my kids will get antsy soon and we will have to leave.
As humans we are innately social, we desire people around us, building families, groups of friends. But I wonder if the idea of being alone and the associated loneliness have become an unnecessary fear. I have a friend who hates to be alone. She cannot imagine leaving her husband and kids for a night just to be by herself. It just isn’t appealing to her. If she is going away for a night she wants to go somewhere with her girlfriends and have fun. But being alone is also fun, a different kind of fun, a way to get back in touch and check in with yourself.
I know I wouldn’t appreciate my retreat if I didn’t have my family. If I didn’t have a wonderful chaotic life to return to, solitude is less necessary. But I think mothers and fathers should take the time to do a retreat because parenting is a job about caring and the person we forget to take care for most often is ourselves. I could have spent another 24 hours alone but I went home and got big hugs from my family who had a lovely time in my absence. And I felt revitalized, more tuned in, more grateful of what I have and most importantly, more grateful for who I am.
My inaugural trip will now be a yearly ritual, one I am already looking forward to for next year.