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A few months ago, my boss e-mailed me to see if I wanted to attend a four-day marketing conference in Banff. It was an incredible opportunity. I would fly out the following week and attend sessions, post to our social media channels and conduct interviews for our blog.
“You interested?” he asked.
“OF COURSE!” is the all-caps reply you’d expect, right?
Instead, my heart sank. “You can’t go,” said the voice in my head. “How will the kids cope without you for nearly a week?"
What was happening? Who was this voice filling me with guilt, anxiety and doubt?
I’m Katherine Scarrow, deputy head of the Globe Content Studio, the brand marketing division of The Globe and Mail, and I’m slightly mortified to admit that the prospect of being away from my two little kids, even for four days, launched me into a full-blown (and totally clichéd) identity crisis.
In my former life, I would’ve jumped at the opportunity to escape routine. But now, even with my husband’s support and encouragement, I couldn’t bear the thought of time and distance apart from my babies.
I’ve always prided myself on being able to deftly manage a full-time career with being a mom. What I hadn’t totally realized, however, was just how much I’d given up.
It started in 2016, when my son was born. Slowly but surely – between the 4 a.m. feedings and the countless diaper changes – I began to let big, important parts of myself slip away. And while my superficial preferences were still firmly intact – I still loved Bud Light, true crime podcasts and powder donuts, for example – I had given up the things that fuelled my mind, body and spirit.
I didn’t run – my stress reliever and energizer; I didn’t write – the activity that helped me make sense of things; and I didn’t prioritize self-care – I didn’t treat myself to massages or even bother to get my hair cut or coloured for nearly a year (and it showed).
Many people (including men) lose themselves when they become parents. And that loss of identity is only deepened by the reality that our work as moms and dads is often undervalued. As my colleague Tim Kiladze wrote following nearly a year of paternity leave: “I discovered that being a primary caregiver is often an onerous, thankless task. It is the bedrock of our society, allowing the world as we know it to function, but the job’s value, and its complexity, is largely invisible to those who haven’t been immersed in it. I started to feel a deep connection with other women, particularly my mum – something rooted in a sense of shared experience, as if we fought the war together, and hardly anyone else knew what the trenches were like.”
But while the parental trenches don’t exactly discriminate between the sexes, there are some aspects of the experience that are particular to women, who go through the hormonal changes of pregnancy and “may have a specific neurobiological experience,” as Alexandra Sacks writes in a piece for the New York Times. She cites the work of psychiatrist Daniel Stern, author of the Mother Constellation and Birth of a Mother. Stern’s research demonstrated that becoming a mother is an identity shift, and one of the most significant physical and psychological changes a woman will ever experience.
In many ways, that shift is a rite of passage, but that doesn’t make it any easier or more palatable when you realize it’s happened to you.
What ultimately helped me decide to go on that trip to Banff was speaking to another mother, my cousin. She told me about the time she went on a week-long work trip and left her husband and two boys behind. It was “fantastic,” she said with a smile. She recounted nights spent curled up in bed reading after a long bubble bath; simple luxuries that all parents with young children dream of. But she also told me about how much confidence her husband gained as a parent (not to mention respect for her and her contribution) while she was away and how physical distance gave her literal perspective on her own life.
Her story helped me reframe my own situation and motivated me to accept my boss’s invitation. Instead of dwelling on the guilt or sadness I may have felt from being away from my children, I would focus on the benefits. And there were several.
Attending the conference gave me the chance to learn and stay ahead of my industry, as well as meet smart, ambitious and accomplished people from all over North America. It also gave me an excuse to write again – something I hadn’t done in a while, despite the fact that it’s one of the reasons I got into journalism in the first place. Agreeing to go on this trip opened the door to writing several blogs posts and a feature story for our website.
A few days away also gave my husband a real chance to bond with the kids. This, I would learn through FaceTime, meant post-work dance parties to Sia or Maroon 5 or Dua Lipa. Pure dad time also involved the house becoming a little messier than I’d like, but that was okay.
Because while Cheerios may not have been swept up immediately and laundry may have sat untouched a little longer, that trip to Banff gave me something else, too: A chance to restore myself physically and mentally in an idyllic setting. Self-care may be trendy and overhyped, but for a mother of young children, I’ve come to realize, it’s critical. After a full day of attending sessions and conducting interviews, I took long baths, read books and slept through the night, which I hadn’t done in years.
Parenthood is magical. But it can also grind you down. It took something as seemingly benign as a work trip for me to realize just how far I’d strayed from myself and how important it was to find my way back.
What else we’re reading:
Parents – especially working moms and dads with babies and toddlers – know that weekends aren’t exactly relaxing. Between the early mornings, activities and housework neglected during the week, they can be the downright exhausting. Want to make weekends more refreshing? New research shows that one way to do this is to think of them as short vacations: Sleep in (if you can!), do less housework and eat a bit more than you normally would. Find ways to make mundane tasks more fun, and slow down. These simple steps will help you feel like you’re breaking out of the day-to-day grind, which I, for one, am all for.
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