The guilt consumed me: Why it is okay to spend time alone as a mum

As a young mum, I have had many opportunities to spend time away from my little girl. With an abundance of very supportive family members, I'm surrounded by people who ask daily if they can babysit or look after my daughter.

I am very lucky in that sense and have always been aware of this luck. I see older parents on the school run who cannot rely on their own parents or whose siblings and family have their own kids to look after.

I meet mums on the train whose families are oceans away and haven’t had a ‘break’ since 2014.

However, I am still always reluctant to leave my daughter I’m trying to figure out why.

Leaving a newborn whose smell is the very reason you wake up in the morning, is one thing. But finding it hard to leave a four-year-old in the thick of temper-tantrum territory is another.

I wish I could say it’s because of the need to be around her or hear her little voice or hold her chubby hand. It’s not.

This problem can be summed up with a single word, one that is central in the lives of mums everywhere: GUILT

The guilt comes from all sides, but especially from inside. Seeing these other parents who have never spent a night away from their three-year-old. Hearing the distinctive sound of a mother with 3 under 3 who would find it nearly impossible to get away from all three at a time.

Listening to my mum tell us stories of endless summers on the beach and realising that I barely have a childhood memory where she is not present.

Last summer, work took me to an unfamiliar setting, one where I didn’t see my daughter every day. I made the choice to gift her with her own endless summers on the beach with her cousins. The kind you remember with an ever-present beaming sun and a hot pavement under your bare feet.

It probably rained three out of five days, but kids never remember that.

The fact that I was working meant these memories would be minus a mum in the background, orchestrating picnics, overseeing swims and surveying sand-castle competitions.

I tried to enjoy the time to myself, but the guilt consumed me. Now looking back, it made no sense to spend time worrying about how my absence would affect her. In truth; it didn’t. Sure, she shouted an impatient ‘miss you mum’ into her granny’s phone when I called, but that’s it. The pang of mum guilt was for nothing, its purpose; simply to disrupt my alone time.

I realise now how okay it is to want or have to spend time away from my daughter and how unproductive it is to worry about it. To worry about what others think about your childless morning coffee or that Zumba class you take on a Tuesday night when you SHOULD be reading the Gruffalo to your little ones AGAIN.

To worry about whether your kids will remember your girl’s nights out or your work week-end away. Because they won’t. All they will remember is your smiling face after you’ve taken that well-earned break and the energy you’ve regained after spending time as something other than a ‘mum’; yourself. 

Anna Murray is an Irish student mum to one little girl.

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