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How to Take a Mommy Day Off

Stephanie Rausser

Close your eyes for a second, and when you open them, read the words on the next line.

A day for yourself.

Now imagine yourself taking one. For readers unfamiliar with this concept, a day for yourself is defined as a series of uninterrupted hours during which you relax, read, take a yoga class, see a friend, or skip through a wheat field in slow motion, if that's what makes you feel good. What's more, you do this without regard to anyone else's opinion, hunger level, need to be at the speech therapist, feelings of abandonment, or your daughter's desire for you to help get the yellow rubber minidress on one of those teeny-tiny Polly Pocket dolls RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND!!

Okay, so what is the primary feeling you're having at the thought of that day just for yourself? Is it:

a) Guilt
b) Trepidation or outright worry
c) Righteous entitlement, because, dagnabit, you deserve some downtime
d) Shock at that pig flying by
e) All of the above

We all know we should take a "me" day (or at least some "me" time) every so often, and we know we'd feel less addled and overwhelmed if we did. Says Emily Bender, a certified holistic nutrition consultant from Fairfax, CA, and mom of a 5-year-old, "Not only was I calmer after I went to a weekend retreat, but being away gave me a lot of clarity about what my needs are and how I parent. It freed up a colossal amount of mental space so I could see things better."

There are myriad reasons, however, that we can't or don't take a day. Some moms believe that the whole machinery of the house would screech to a halt if they were incommunicado for that long, while others don't fully trust their partner to actually engage with the children instead of planting them in front of the TV while noodling around on Facebook. If you work outside the home, you may already feel sad that you don't see your kids enough. And, of course, many single parents have added logistical and financial obstacles that prevent them from getting alone time.

But there are some deeper reasons many of us don't take a hiatus. Melissa Leffel, a teacher and mom of two in Fredonia, NY, has never taken a real day off. She says it makes her feel selfish to leave her own kids, or her students. "It's a sense that I'm not being responsible," she says. "When I want a day off, it's usually about wanting space, or to be able to sleep until nine. It's about wanting back things that I used to have before I had kids and maybe didn't realize what it would feel like not to have anymore." The thought of wishing away your family (a notion that most moms have had, at least fleetingly, at some point) feels ungrateful and somehow reckless.

Nonetheless, Leffel's sentiments are echoed in tot lots and middle school PTAs across the country. "Nobody wants to think of themselves as selfish," says licensed psychologist Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box and a mom of two in Dallas. "They think, Time for me detracts from time with them. How could I not put my kids first all the time? If I don't, I'm a bad mom." By this all-or-nothing thinking, says Dunnewold, a "good" mom should always want to be with her children, and what's more, enjoy every (sometimes tedious or aggravating) second of it, regardless of her own needs. Any other scenario is a sign that you're not worthy of the good fortune the heavens have bestowed upon you in blessing you with such a lovely family.

To that, Parenting says poo. Let's help you shelve those unrealistic expectations of yourself and go get a manicure (or take a walk or go to the mall or just sleep!). Because that old chestnut is spot-on: If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

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