As a mother, I am rarely without my children. Even when I am running errands solo, I'm still in mom mode. I look like a frazzled mother. There are diapers peering out of my purse. My children are right in the forefront of my mind. There is no escaping that motherhood comes first in my day-to-day identity.
Most of the time, I don’t mind this. I am a mother, and I am proud of that fact. I love my children, and I am deeply invested in the job of raising them to be good, healthy, well-adjusted individuals.
However, the truth is over the past six years of being a mom, it has all but consumed me. It’s not just a part of my identity. It is my whole identity.
When I am asked what I have been up to, I answer with what I have been doing with my kids. When I hang out with friends, we wind up spending nearly all our time talking about our offspring. Even when I’m out at dinner or drinks without them, my kids become the crux of the evening. No matter who I am with, I am first and foremost a mom.
Yet recently, I’ve found an exception to this rule. I am not a mom when I travel alone.
When I went away on a forest-bathing retreat solo (oh yeah, it was real woo), I found myself free from the expectation to be a mother for the first time in my post-mom life. I had never travelled individually in my whole life, a fact that hit me suddenly as I boarded the plane and realized I was truly on my own. No husband. No kids. No friends or family. It was the first time it dawned on me that I could be someone else entirely.
When people looked at me, they didn't assume I was a mother or a wife. And when people began conversations with me, I realized I didn't have to tell them I was. I opened with my interests, my profession as a writer, where I lived, why I came here. Sometimes my kids came up. Often, they didn't. I was able to stand alone as a woman worthy of her own accord, without my kids as a stand-in for my entire persona.
Referring to my kids (and giving them all of my attention) was my default, a way of deflecting attention away from myself, but as I ventured through the world alone I made a point to leave them out of conversations. I wanted to see if I could construct a fully functioning version of myself without them.
It was a thrilling feeling to wake up in the morning without a child inches from my face asking for a bowl of cereal at 6:00 a.m., to eat breakfast I hadn’t prepared, to have only my own needs to meet. Moving through the world, beholden to no one but myself, was a completely alien feeling. Surely I experienced this in college, before I married, but the memory of it was so foggy I could hardly recall it. On top of that, it wasn’t a feeling I knew to cherish earlier in life. It was only now, when unyoked from the responsibilities of motherhood, that I was truly able to appreciate the luxury of being alone.
Though it was unnerving at first, not to spend every waking hour caring for another person, I found it was exciting to switch modes for once and focus on myself. I realized there were precious few times in my regular life that I would be afforded to focus on me. Referring to my kids (and giving them all of my attention) was my default, a way of deflecting attention away from myself, but as I ventured through the world alone I made a point to leave them out of conversations. I wanted to see if I could construct a fully functioning version of myself without them.
I leaned into my career as a writer instead of dismissing it as a side job I do to stay home with my kids. I talked about what I was interested in writing and what I was pursuing. I talked about my education and my history and how much I loved photography and fiction.
I saw that beneath the veil of motherhood there was still an essential version of me that didn’t rely on anyone else. I was still there. To be honest, it was a surprising discovery.
Because all too often, I found myself wondering if there was any “me” left after I became a mom. So much of my life is wrapped up in motherhood that it can be hard to see anything else. Travelling solo for the first time allowed me to regain my sense of self outside of motherhood. It showed me that I could still be a whole and interesting person without using my kids as my stand-in.
When I returned home, I felt refreshed and whole. The experience was so freeing that I have decided to travel solo more and more often, relishing the confidence that comes from moving through the world alone. I love the indulgence of being just me, and it makes me a better mom when I return.