Confession: I am a traveling mom who does not travel with her child. For some reason, this shocks people when they inevitably ask “Are you taking your son with you?” The truth is that I travel 90 percent of the time without my kid. Not because I don’t enjoy time with my son, but because sometimes I need a time-out from life. See, for me, travel is self-care in its best form and a way for me to recharge. I love exploring new places and having new experiences. The feeling is like nothing else. I feel invigorated after exploring and conquering an unknown country on my own. It reminds me of who I was before I became a mother and allows me to revisit the part of me that gets lost sometimes under life’s duties. How can I be enough for my child when sometimes I am not enough for myself?
After my son was born, I spent a lot of time putting myself second in order to fulfill the role of mother. Wanderlust is what saved me after losing myself in an abusive relationship, trying to navigate motherhood and wondering who I had become. I was at my lowest point, so much so that I felt like I let my son down and that he deserved someone better than me to raise him. Something had to change in a drastic way if I was going to get back to a version of myself that was authentic. Travel, in the most subtle of ways, found a space in my life and changed how I looked at myself. So I made a commitment to it, and I used it to regain my power back, one trip at a time. With every trip came a new level of self-discovery and a slow climb out of one of the darkest times of my life. Naturally, this brought on a lot of questions from other mothers seeking answers to explain their own lives. Some were looking for ways to create self-care for themselves, but some were looking to shame me because I was doing something that felt uncomfortable to them. Conversations with other mothers would always reach the point of, “Don’t you feel guilty leaving your son at home?” At first, I didn’t know how to answer this question because it seemed so convicting of me as if I was doing harm to my child. Why did this even matter when I was trying to explain how I found my happiness again? Then it hit me: no matter what I do or accomplish, people will choose to only view me through their narrow definition of motherhood.
As an act of rebellion against normative societal ideology, the straight-faced answer to that question is and will always be “no.” Why should I feel guilty for doing something for myself? Where did this notion come from—that the only time mothers can travel is if it is with their children? At what point did we all collectively agree that motherhood was monolithic and we all had to adhere to that one standard. From the very first moment I knew I was having a child, every decision fell on my shoulders like a ton of bricks. A major shift occurred in the trajectory of my life, and I had to put a hold on all of my plans in order to give my son a healthy start at life. I never even once considered that taking care of myself was also a part of raising him. I never wanted to be the mother who dedicated every single moment of her life to her child while neglecting her own needs. I always wanted to be true to myself and still hold intact the same values that were at my core. But I, too, had fallen victim to offering myself up as a sacrifice to be the mother everyone expected. I changed the way I dressed, wore my hair and where I hung out. I even pretended that I did not like the things that used to give me joy, just to fall in line with an image—an image that had been handed down to me from what society had created, but not my own. I always wanted to define my own identity in every way; this did not exclude my identity as a mother. I wanted to raise my child, my son, to be the type of man I had never met. However, everyone around me wanted to drown me in their version of motherhood. They wanted to stop me from becoming the woman or mother that I had imagined, my own version of a mother.
In the theme of regaining my power back, I decided that instead of drowning again I would become the kind of woman that my son needed. My travels allow him to see a woman who is unafraid to go out there alone and conquer this world. A woman who is taking down the institution of expectations on mothers one country at a time, while redefining it at the same time. A woman who can be herself in a world that is telling her not too. But most importantly, a woman who is not ashamed and feels no guilt for putting herself first. I make the rules and I live a well-lived life. I can rewrite the definition of motherhood how I want and raise my son to still be a happy individual. There is no greater gift I can give him than the permission to be himself. The only world I want him to imagine for himself is the one where he gets to decide who he is and how he wants to live. So, will I continue to travel without my child? Yes, for the most part, and that’s just fine with me.
Originally published in Harness Magazine.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.