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Taking Time Away From My Family Helps Me Thrive

I’ve figured out how to love my family by carving out moments for myself.

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Simone Martin-Newberry
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Funk music filled the bedroom as I two-stepped from the closet to the duffel bag resting on the bed. I packed boots, dresses and face masks to the beat, vibing to empowerment anthems. Then, my four-year-old sashayed into the room. “Are you going to the hotel again?” she asked. I grabbed her outstretched hand and spun her around, nodding in time with the song blaring from my laptop. “Do you always have to go to the hotel?” she added.

But what I heard was, Do you have to leave me? I would miss her, my one-year-old and my husband, Kevin, too, but going to the hotel — also known as “mom’s day off” — was necessary for my personal rejuvenation.

The previous five years had been a whirlwind. I began a full-time job on the heels of giving birth to my first child in 2015. I alternated between work demands and being a primary caregiver. Household management fell to me as Kevin, a software consultant, accepted more professional responsibilities and later hours. Anger and exhaustion at our unequal responsibilities pecked at me for years, but I suppressed them. When Kevin’s hard work paid off in a major promotion, it required us to move.

In summer 2018, I quit my state job as a legislative proofreader to become a stay-at-home mom. We packed up our home and caravanned five days from Texas to Nevada while I was six-months-pregnant with our second child. On the other side of that whirlwind, I gave birth. Six weeks later, Kevin’s parental leave ended. I was still recovering from surgery when I was thrust into a part-time single-mom role as my husband traveled for work three or more days a week. I unpacked our house in between breastfeeding, regular pediatrician appointments, searching for preschools, meeting the needs of my daughters’ equally demanding developmental milestones, acclimating to a new city and attending a new moms’ group to make new friends.

Freed from the shackles of a 9-to-5, I also began my writing career in between. But behind the scenes, my back ached, my emotional well had run dry and my spiritual life had been crammed into leftover moments.

The first time I slid into a dark hallway closet was in early 2019. Everything weighing on me caved in — I had never collapsed so completely before. With tears streaming down my face, I chalked it up to stress. Black women can be taught to give their entire selves for their family’s well-being. This was the motherhood I watched in classic Black movies and plays like Soul Food and Lackawanna Blues and witnessed in my own mother’s life. This was normal. This was me.

I pressed on for a few more weeks until I holed up in the coat closet for my second emotional breather. On the phone with my mother one day, she woke me up to what was really going on. “You need rest, big head. Your family can’t survive without you.”

With two kids and one income, our budget did not allow for the restful vacation in an Italian villa that I really wanted. My husband instead agreed to leverage points from his work travel into monthly weekend getaways at a local hotel for me.

The first weekend away that spring was tough. I stumbled from the house like an extraterrestrial embarking across a strange new world. My thoughts ran circles around me. What should I do first? It was the first time in a long time that I was hyperattuned to my own needs.

There wasn’t enough time to go shopping, get a massage, watch a movie, eat a nice meal, attend a show and rest. So, I took that first weekend hour by hour. With each day off, it got easier. I limited myself to one fun thing and spent the rest of the time processing my emotional needs. When I stopped trying to make up for lost time, I found my groove. I let my mind and body dictate what I did. And often, they sought rest, joy and affirmation. I would return home refreshed, jubilant and more even-keeled.

These days, I can’t always jet off to a hotel each month. With my husband’s weekly travels, our weekends together as a family have become a precious commodity. And we’re trying to conserve our finances for a realvacation away — for two. So sometimes I instead set aside four or five hours to read, write, nap or attend kemetic yoga classes. What matters most is having the time to recalibrate and love on myself. I am better acquainted with the woman I’ve become in my mid-30s and look forward to who I will become in the next five to 10 years.

I still wrestle with the idea that, as a mother, I sometimes have to step away from my family to maintain my personal quality of life. But they’ll be alright, and I will too. I am striking a balance that will make it easier for me as my girls become more self-sufficient and I reclaim more space.

I know the best years of my life won’t just be when my girls are grown and gone. It is possible to live vibrantly at each stage of my journey.