In this episode of the Brainy Moms podcast, we discuss the practice of taking a solo getaway known as a Mom-cation, or Mommy Sabbatical. Teri advocates strongly for the practice while Dr. Amy suggests that time could be better spent nurturing your relationship with a significant other. Sharing recent research and personal experience on both sides of this subject, it’s their liveliest debate yet. Don’t miss hearing the pros and cons of the mom-cation as well as some alternatives.
Read the transcript of this episode:
Brainy Moms Podcast Episode 106
Unpacking the Momcation: Selfish Getaway or Essential Rest?
with Dr. Amy Moore and Teri Miller
Dr. Amy: Welcome to this episode of Brainy Moms. I’m Dr Amy and I’m here with Teri and today we are going to be talking about mommy sabbaticals or momcations. Do you know that there are over 60,000 tweets with the hashtag momcation?
Teri: I’ve never heard that term! That’s great.
Dr. Amy: Right and so when I was looking at mommy sabbatical–because I know that’s the term that you use—it kept leading me to “momcation.” And I know apparently this is a hot subject for there to be more than 60,000 tweets about it! So, I just want to dig in a little bit and talk about it. What is a mommy sabbatical? You’re super familiar with it because you take them. Do moms need time away by themselves? Is it practical? And would that time be better spent taking a vacation with your significant other instead? So, let’s just get to it right now and I’m going to throw that first question out to you. What’s a mommy sabbatical?
Teri: I think to me a mommy sabbatical means time away from anyone or anything that
needs you, that’s pulling at you, and so I mean the term is it’s a sabbatical away from being a Mommy but I think it’s also away from all the things that pull at you. And so it’s not just getting away from the kids. It’s, it’s closing the computer. It’s saying I am not going to reply to their teachers’ emails. I am not going to take care of bills. I’m not going to do any of these responsible parent things that I normally have to take care of that are normally a you know a weight on my shoulders. And this is going to be a little harsh but as much as I love my hubby, sometimes our husbands are part of that need as well. And as much as I love spending time with
my husband, there are times when I just do not want anyone pulling on me. I don’t want anyone wanting anything from me. So that’s, that’s my thought.
Dr. Amy: So then, what does a mommy sabbatical or momcation look like?
Teri: I think it really, really varies depending on you know your personality type, where you
are in life, what kind of season you’re in with your kids, do you have little kids, are your kids older? , for me it’s time alone but not utterly and completely alone because I am more extroverted. And so if I’m gonna take three or four days, three or four days completely alone I
think ultimately at the end of that I would be totally depressed because I don’t do well totally alone but in the past, I’ve done things like I’ll have three or four days alone. But in that time I’ll go get a manicure, I’ll maybe meet up for coffee with a good friend a couple of times and so I’ll do some things with people but then those evening hours I get to eat whatever I want. I don’t have to fix anything for anybody. I don’t have to base what movie I’m going to watch on what my husband might feel like watching as well. That I get to just pick what I want to do every morning, every night you go to hotel.
Dr. Amy: Do you rent a cabin? I mean how do you get away completely alone?
Teri: Okay, well I’m, I have been really, really spoiled. And so the first time I took a mommy sabbatical was probably goodness 10 or 12 years ago and our best friends have a beautiful (well they’ve moved now but they have this beautiful ) log cabin and the first time I took a mommy sabbatical they were going to be out of town for like a long weekend and so they’re like why don’t you come house-sit? Ha-ha really just an excuse to come and have a getaway! So it was free getaway. Beautiful, beautiful location, you know. Peaceful, up in the mountains, sunny deck, hot tub, and so it was a freebie and that’s a really nice perk. and I’ve encouraged other moms to try to do that, to do like trade-offs with friends. You know, hey, when you’re out of town let me know. I’ll come house sit in quotes and I think that’s a great way to pursue having that break without having to put out a lot of money.
Dr. Amy: Right. Yeah, so, I know that you’ve spoken about mommy sabbaticals and blogged about mommy sabbaticals and so how widespread do you think this need is? Like what are you seeing in terms of your friend group and, you know, the culture of momcations? What are you seeing?
Teri: Yeah, I think I’m seeing it’s way more of a need for stay-at-home moms—which sounds weird. I don’t know, there’s always, there’s this this discrepancy between working moms and stay-at-home moms that I think working moms often think that stay-at-home moms have all this free time, and stay-at-home moms often think that working moms have all this like encouragement time. Like they get all this good feedback and pat on the back and you get a paycheck and and I think stay-at-home moms often feel like what they do is super thankless. But then I think working moms think stay-at-home moms have it so easy because they’re not exhausted and having to spread themselves so thin to be with their kids and anyway. So, it’s just this big discrepancy but I think for sure I’m seeing more stay-at-home moms that are more desperate for that getaway for that time alone.
Dr. Amy: And so what do you see is the benefit to that?
Teri: Okay. My family would say that I’m a way better mommy and wife when I get home like after I’ve had some time away and generally, sadly, by the time I’m scheduling a mommy sabbatical I’m so fried that my family is kind of like why don’t you go away for a few days and then when I come back I’m refreshed. I’m rested. I’m rejuvenated. I’m, I’m a better wife.
Dr. Amy: Yeah, hmm, so I’m having a really hard time wrapping my brain around this concept. So I posted a question about it on Facebook, right? Because I wanted to see. You’re such an advocate for this and because I don’t understand it, I don’t. Even as a psychologist, I don’t
get it and I’ll talk about why in a few minutes. So, I posted it. I just threw it out there on Facebook and said, “Friends, tell me what you think about this.” And so I got responses that ran the gamut. Okay, so some of my friends said they’ve never gone away solo and they don’t want to. Others said they’ve never gone away solo, but they do want to. Like if they could, they would. Yeah, a few said that they take time once a week for themselves whether it’s one night a week or one morning a week and their husbands do the same thing. Others talked about how they wouldn’t go away but they do think it’s important that you pursue your own interests. Do things for yourself. Self-care. And one said they feel like going to work is their solo time which you have alluded to. One of them said, “I would never travel without my husband.” In fact, she said, “My spouse is so much a part of who I am that it’s hard to not travel with him.” And then I had several friends that feel like both were important-time solo away and time away together, yeah. So. I was glad to see that I wasn’t completely alone in thinking that a mommy sabbatical or a momcation is insane right? (laughs) Because I was starting to wonder, yeah, it’s such a thing, why am I not, why am I not grabbing hold of this concept? And, so one of the things that I struggle with is when I think about a mom needing time away—a weekend away or a week away or 10 days away—my question is why? Why do they need a break so badly? Because if they had a way to keep their soul and body nurtured day in and day out, would they need a 10-day break from everyone, right? Do they have authentic friendships? Is social media being honest rather than a highlight reel? Are their husbands giving 50%? Do their kids’ teachers show grace when homework is a mess or absent? Do they have a supportive church? Do they have a great babysitter or two or three? Do they have a cleaning service that’s helping, right? So, in my mind when you leverage your resources, when you have access to those resources, it keeps you fueled all along the way. Okay, you’re pursuing your hobbies, you’re taking a morning a week to go get a mani pedi or a massage. Why are we getting to the point of being utterly exhausted at the breaking point like you said happens to you? Yeah, before you say okay, now I’m going to go get away and feed my soul for 10 days, right?
Teri: And I think 10 days is excessive.
Dr. Amy: Okay.
Teri: I think that would be that would be extremely excessive. I think a long weekend even two nights, three nights is like oh my goodness that would be miraculous. Okay but so I’m gonna give you an opposite perspective.
Dr. Amy: Sure, okay.
Teri: So when my kids were little and I was a stay-at-home, homeschool mom with my kids, I did not get a break ever. They didn’t go to school. I did their schooling, I cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I put them to bed at night. I mean my husband helped. And then I think for a lot of women too, a lot of women with young kids that are not working women, there’s not the financial opportunity that you kind of expressed. Oh, once a week you go get a mani-pedi. I’m like, I wish. No, when I started taking breaks and being able to get away from my kids, we didn’t have two nickels to rub together. I didn’t go pay you know to stay somewhere, and I would have to scratch together you know nickels and quarters and whatever to go get a manicure if I was away and that would be the only manicure or pedicure I got that entire year you know? And so, no, I didn’t have a housekeeper. I didn’t have anybody that came in and helped clean. I didn’t have anybody that babysat, we didn’t you know, we didn’t take breaks as a couple, vacations as a couple, because we wouldn’t we couldn’t afford it. And I think that’s a super super common place for stay-at-home moms when you don’t have that dual income a lot of times finances are super tight. I mean and I posted that same question and yeah I got a response about she said it would be wonderful. A mommy sabbatical would be wonderful but it does not end up being realistic. Finances play a big part, sure, and that was that was one of the questions that I was hoping we could answer today is yeah, is it practical yeah to take that time away? Not very often.
Dr. Amy: I want to respond to your thought that stay-at-home moms might need this more than working moms. So again, you’re coming at this from a stay-at-home mom perspective.
Dr. Amy: Just from a working mom perspective, in my mind, unless you own your own business, you go to work and your mind is on meeting the needs of your employer or the organization all day every day, which is stressful. So, working moms actually have two jobs.
Teri: Oh for sure.
Dr. Amy: They take care of the kids, they get them out the door to school, then they go and work for someone else (most of the time) all day right? Then they come home and they have to do dinner, homework, bedtime routine, and cook. Collapse on the couch, you know at 10, 11 pm and hope to get just a few minutes with their husband before they go to sleep and start all over the next day.
Dr. Amy: So in in my mind , that’s just as rigorous…
Teri: Oh, for sure.
Dr. Amy: …you know, as the stay-at-home mom who doesn’t feel like they’re getting a break either.
Teri: Yeah, for sure.
Dr. Amy: So then the other reason that I’m struggling to wrap my brain around the mommy sabbatical or the momcation or these these solo trips…
Teri: Yeah. (laughs)
Dr. Amy: …is that I can’t imagine taking a vacation day or two or three or five and spending it alone when I could be spending that time with my husband.
Dr. Amy: And so I feel like I’d be wasting that vacation time.
Dr. Amy: The marriage is the center of the family.
Teri: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.
Dr. Amy: That relationship is there before you have children and it’s going to be there when your children are grown and gone and if you don’t nurture it along the way you’re going to really struggle right with that empty nest.
Teri: Yeah, for sure.
Dr. Amy: So, to me, a couple’s getaway is so much more important than a solo getaway; and so I think too I agree with my friend who said my husband’s such a big part of me I wouldn’t want to travel without him.
Teri: Yeah. (laughs)
Dr. Amy: I just, I would be lonely, bored, and wishing that my spouse was there to share this time with me.
Teri: Right. I think that it’s important equally important to have both. And I, and again it’s going to depend like your perspective on needing that mom time away is gonna so greatly depend on your season of life and your personality and your career and I think I mean I see you as a very fulfilled in your career and you know you get lots of accolades, you do a great job, your coworkers love you, you know you’re very loved in what you do and respected and successful and I don’t know that that’s something you’d need to feel that you need to feel that you need a mommy sabbatical you know what I mean? Right so if it’s I feel like if it’s if it’s not something you’re longing for and you’re hungry for well that’s beautiful that’s awesome. You know then that your vacation days are so much you know so much more limited as a working mom then I think a stay-at-home mom I don’t know if you’ve got a good support system if you’ve got support people that you can call on to help with kids and stuff like that then yeah there is more flexibility to get away sometimes not for all stay-at-home moms but I just think that that’s cool like if it’s not a need for you so be it but I think that there’s lots and lots of moms out there that desperately need that that time away from anyone pulling on them equally I want the getaway time with my husband for sure and in fact my husband and I do some kind of a getaway even if it’s just an overnight every single quarter and then we try to do twice a year, pretty significant getaways you know like a week five days something like that and so that’s a huge priority and yet I also need a break alone.
Dr. Amy: So, do you think that there’s a cultural aspect to this? That our modern society has this focus on independence rather than interdependence? I you know I place a very high priority on connection, right? I talk about that in almost every episode the importance of connection.
Dr. Amy: And I actually read a book called Choosing Marriage Why It Has to Start with We > Me… (affiliate link)
Dr. Amy: …by Debra Fileta and here’s what she says about spending free time alone: “The people who are constantly investing in life outside of marriage are doing so at the expense of life inside their marriage. They’re watering their personal lives while their marriages are slowly dying of thirst. They’re choosing self instead of choosing marriage.” So, what do you say about that?
Teri: Well I think you’re still, you’re still saying that it has to be one or the other and I just…
Dr. Amy: Working moms with a limited amount of vacation time, right? Or even for the stay-at-home mom who has to work to find care for their children to take a sabbatical especially if their spouses are busy working during the day. Given the, given the limits of how often you can go away.
Teri: I think there should be a balance. I just think there should be a balance. I think that it’s, it’s important to have both if that’s something that you long for as a mom and fine not all moms do you know what here’s I’m gonna pull up this great comment from Stephen Kotler. So, Stephen Kotler posted—he is an author and a speaker and just an awesome go-getter—so he wrote about a great deal well it’s a solitude. So, he wrote he writes “Solitude matters. Creativity needs non-time and non-time he means like downtime. A great deal of creativity requires collaboration, but the incubation phase demands the opposite taking a break from the sensory bombardment of the world gives your brain even more reason to wander into far-flung corners. A 2012 study run by psychologists at the University of Utah, for example, found that after four days alone in nature subjects scored 50 percent higher on standard tests of creativity. Here’s the thing. Peak performers don’t like downtime. It’s the reason that recovery is considered a grit skill. It’s also the reason we need to build time for non-time into our schedules. We need distance from our problems. Distance allows us to see things from multiple perspectives, consider others another point of view. But if we don’t have the time to get that psychological distance. To get space from our emotions and take a break from the world, then we won’t have the luxury of patience or the uplift of alternative possibilities.”
So, I thought yeah. I thought that was a great quote that it’s again I don’t think it has to be we’re
not talking about either or we’re not saying you either take time with your husband or you take time alone. I think if you’ve got a week of vacation days then great take four of those five of
those with your spouse with that connection but I think there’s important psychological mental emotional health that comes from pulling back from all relationships and having a lone quiet time for a couple of days if you know if you can only get those seven days.
Dr. Amy: So, what would be the benefit of taking days versus carving out an hour for yourself every evening to unplug?
Teri: I think that’s fine for some people. It was not ,it’s not been effective for me.
Dr. Amy: How come?
Teri: That’s, it’s just not enough time. It’s not enough time to, to reboot. Okay, so here’s another, here’s a response.
Dr. Amy: You know what? Hold that thought. We need to take a break and hear a word from our sponsor.
Teri: Oh yes. All right.
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Dr. Amy: And we’re back.
Teri: Okay, well , oh I was going to read about rebooting. A comment for our post kind of getting responses from people so here’s somebody who took a recent getaway. On my recent getaway, here’s the analogy. If your phone is bogging down we think to shut it down reboot but when there’s an upgrade available we also shut the phone down but then it doesn’t just power up it slowly comes back while upgrading and when it turns back on it has a new and improved operating system while family and marriage investments are important my need to get away and not only reboot but upgrade my operating system is vital and can only happen when I have the
space to shut down and reflect and slowly come back with improvements. I thought that was really cool. Yeah does of course help illustrate that on their own oops sorry sorry it does help illustrate that need and that benefit.
Dr. Amy: So, talk to me a little bit about how you spend that time.
Teri: Well I personally spend a lot of time just listening, just silence, the birds, the wind, trying to, I mean we would call it mindful meditation. just being quiet, being still, definitely spending time in God’s Word for me, spending time reading my bible and in prayer but a lot of just I call it listening prayer so instead of like telling God or asking God, I do a lot of listening and then yeah just mindful meditation just being present. Gratitude.
Dr. Amy: So, I’m to throw something at you.
Dr. Amy: There’s some recent research out of University of Buffalo on mindfulness and the takeaway is that mindfulness can make you selfish.
Dr. Amy: It decreases pro-social behaviors in people with a mindset of independence. So western societies tend to be individualistic and adopting mindfulness practices has increased that individualistic mindset. What do you say to that? Does it make you selfish? Does it make you more Me-focused?
Teri: I would say I’m absolutely selfish and me focused. Yep. There you go. That’s why I have nine kids and do missions work and pour my life out constantly. Okay no obviously, obviously I’m being sarcastic. No and I think that may be where we’re going culturally and that’s why there’s there are no one-size-fits-all answers there is not going to be one thing that listeners are going to walk and walk away and say this is what I need I need a mommy sabbatical and it’s going to look like this no because it’s different for everyone and it’s going to look different
where you are in your life and it’s going to feel different and your needs for that are different. Okay, so this past month uh went on a getaway with my husband to Florida it was awesome we were there just it was about a week we were gone from home well he is a writer and he’s got a editor deadline May 1st and so he actually stayed in Florida for an additional two weeks. He just got home well yesterday was the first full day he was home so he was gone for an additional two full weeks and so I’m at home I was very supportive and eager I’m I try to talk him into it yes
take a writing intensive enjoy that time the beach inspires you and it was great he got a ton done he got some good down time some rest time some reboot you know daddy sabbatical time as well and I’m exhausted I am so tired and fried and don’t tell them but oh my gosh sick of my kids I love them so much I love being with my kids, but after that constancy burning the candle at both ends being up with my older kids till late at night and then being up with my itty bitty
kids early early in the morning I’m just so tired and so I’m gonna get a I’m gonna have a getaway now and so I’m about to we have a family member that’s got a house in Florida that she’s letting us stay at because they’re out of town and so again a free getaway but I’m gonna go back
I’m going back to Florida and I’m gonna get five days in Florida at the beach to rest recover reboot rejuvenate and if that makes me selfish well so be it.
Dr. Amy: So let me ask you this. We know that sleeping in on Saturday mornings is not enough to compensate for sleep deprivation during the week right? So, everybody goes at you know Mach 2 with their hair on fire all week and then they sleep in on Saturdays thinking they can make up for all of that and you can’t though. You know physiologically we don’t work like that. So talk to me a little bit about why an extended period of time for a momcation or mommy sabbatical is enough to rejuvenate you versus a spa day or a night away?
Teri: Okay, okay so May 2018, so it’s been a while. It’s not a brand new study, but Journal of Sleep Research study did just some pretty significant research about sleeping in on the weekends. Getting longer sleep on the weekends that that is correlated with increased mortality with the longer life than for those who only get six to seven hours of sleep during the weekdays and then consistently only get those six to seven hours of sleep on the weekend. And so it’s interesting. I mean I think there’s research studies to show all sides of everything.
Dr. Amy: Right so something is happening there when you’re…
Dr. Amy: Something beneficial.
Teri: Yeah and so it was showing that that that longer weekend sleep is associated with longer it says increased mortality. You know longer life span as compared to consistent short sleep. Okay so I think likewise and I don’t have a research study to pull it up you know to support it but I think likewise that when a han a mom a parent anybody is consistently yeah what burning the
candle at both ends I don’t know consistently being pulled pulled pulled pulled and then thinking that okay I can just I can take that bath and that’s gonna do it. I just don’t I don’t think a long hot bath once a week is enough of a break when you’re feeling pulled 24 hours a day seven days a week. If that’s what that mom is feeling and if you’re not feeling that, Amy, then then it’s that’s not something you need, but I think it’s that issue of if there are ten moms out there I don’t care working, stay at home, who cares, five of them say I’m exhausted for whatever reason, it’s my personality disorder, I put too much emphasis on pleasing everyone, whatever it is, but if five of those moms are saying I need a break then so be it. Let’s encourage those moms to get a break. And if five of those moms are saying I’m fine, I can take a bubble bath once a week and that’s lovely. I can you know once a month just crash stay in bed all day long you know binge Netflix and eat a gallon of ice cream and that works for me well then so be it. That’s fine We don’t all have the same needs and we aren’t all gonna find the same answers.
Dr. Amy: That’s a good point. Because there are there are lots of moms who are not feeling so exhausted that they need a break, right?
Dr. Amy: Finding ways daily to nurture their souls and nurture their bodies you know whether it’s spending an hour in the gym, going for a walk, going for a drive, having lunch with girlfriends, spending time with grandchildren if you’re older, right? So, whatever brings you joy and rejuvenation if that works for you, then that’s enough. You shouldn’t question, well do I need to force myself to take a break?
Teri: Right. Right.
Dr. Amy: Right. I think that’s a really, really good point that I want our listeners to hear.
Dr. Amy: That you have to do what you need right versus…, I want to go back to that sleep study, though. So, you said it it was associated with increased mortality. Did you mean increased longevity? Because increased mortality is actually death, not longer lifespan.
Teri: Right. I’m so sorry, no. Increased mortality. I said the correlation wrong. The increased
mortality was associated with all with the people that consistently got the same shorter sleep.
Dr. Amy: Lack of sleep all weekend too.
Dr. Amy: Thank you for the clarification. Because our “sciencey” listeners are thinking the
same thing that I was thinking.
Teri: Right. That’s not making sense. No, no I mean it’s talking about increased mortality with
the shorter, shorter consistent sleep, so, yeah.
Dr. Amy: Sure. Anyway, thank you for clarifying that.
Dr. Amy: So any final thoughts? Let’s say that we have moms listening that really want to do this, they want to take a momcation or a mommy sabbatical. What suggestions do you have for them?
Teri: I think it’s going to be the hardest for listeners that don’t have a good support system
and that just is a bmer because I think it’s it’s easy for us to sit here and say oh it’s great to have time away with your spouse and marriage should be nber one, but there are lots lots and lots of moms that are not in thrilling marriages and they are not married to men who even care to take time away with them or who can afford it I mean there’s so many reasons that marriage getaways or mommy getaways are not going to be practical. if you’ve got special need kid,
special needs kids like I did with my oldest son for 12 years you don’t get away and I think those are the moms that need it the most. I I would say the the first thing to do would begin to reach out and ask for help try to create, try to discover, cultivate a support system so that if you do need that time away you can you can make it happen. I think trading off houses if you yeah you can. Talk to a couple of friends uh when they’re out of town like you offer yours when we’re out of town why don’t you come stay and then even trading off babysitting nights if you’ve got you know your kids have friends that you trust their parents enough that your kids could go over there that would be I think the hardest part. And the nber one thing is so many moms that need it and don’t feel like they can take that break I would say try to come up with low cost or
free support systems so that you can get the rest that you need.
Dr. Amy: And it doesn’t have to be all or nothing right I mean maybe they only get you know from noon to 10 pm that’s better than not doing anything at all right?
Teri: Absolutely yeah. I think an overnight when you have littles if you’ve got little ones at home
and overnight is very very powerful to get one good night’s sleep if you can get two nights that would be astounding but I think when you have littles you’re there’s there’s always you just sleep on edge because there’s always somebody going mommy mom and so to have that full night
sleep without anybody calling for you or to have to not have that toddler getting in your bed at night or whatever your personal struggle might be you know with being exhausted I think getting it overnight could be really healing.
Dr. Amy: So, what what types of things do you suggest moms do on their on their time away?
Teri: Sleep. Sleep for sure! You know maybe just do those things that you don’t take the time for maybe you can’t afford to go get a pedicure but you can go to the dollar store and get a nail file and pick out a pretty color and nail polish remover and do your own pedicure and and I do think
mindfulness might make us selfish okay whatever but I think as mommies that have been pouring out maybe we need a little self-absorption every once in a while. I think it’s good to have quiet time also if you can sit outside if the weather’s nice or sit in front of a window get
some sunshine, go on a walk, a little physical activity is good. Just a stroll. I think those are all
Dr. Amy: Yeah, well this has been an interesting debate today for, yeah, as we’ve talked about mommy sabbaticals and momcations and do moms need time away. And we’ve decided that you may or you may not.
Dr. Amy: What’s right for you. What’s most comfortable for you and what’s tugging on your heart. You know, are they practical? For some people they are. For others, you just gotta find a way if you feel the need for a break to carve out small time…
Dr. Amy: …here and there and work on increasing your support network so that you can get a little bit of time away if you want it. And then for those who feel that that time would be better spent with their spouse nurturing their marriage, then absolutely that’s the right choice for you, right?
Teri: Yeah ideally, ideally we would have time to nurture both, to nurture self, to nurture rest, and to also nurture your marriage. Ideally.
Dr. Amy: And I think in an upcoming podcast we’re actually going to be talking about types of rest, right?
Teri: Mm-hmm right.
Dr. Amy: So, look forward to that! So, if you liked our podcast today, please give us a review.
Teri: Give us a thumbs up!
Dr. Amy: Thumbs up. Follow us! And look, we’re busy moms, you’re busy moms, so we’re out!
Teri: See ya!