I almost choked on my decaf Saturday morning, when I spotted a newspaper story about the woman who killed her two teenagers because they were “mouthy.”
With three teenage boys (and one pre-pubescent girl) of my own, I definitely understand “mouthy,” but even so, I can’t comprehend the urge to commit filicide.
My guess is that the murderess was mentally ill or severely depressed. I’d hate to think she simply reached her breaking point.
Years ago, I heard of another woman who had careened into her breaking point when her kids were teenagers. I dated one of her three sons, “Steve,” during my early 20s. He was kind, interesting, attractive and athletic, but definitely damaged from his mom’s departure.
As far as I know, “Mrs. S” just reached her breaking point one day and fled to Martha’s Vineyard to live as a Bohemian, artistic, single woman. She never looked back and rarely visited the boys. I didn’t know the whole story, but always suspected Mrs. S simply had her fill of the household’s testosterone.
A dozen years later, when my youngest son was born, I had a moment of panic: would life with three boys (born in a span of 3.3 years) push me over the edge, too? I feared that I might feel the need to take off one day.
Well, I did reach that point, and I did decide to escape…but only for a weeklong girlfriend getaway to Paris, which restored my balance and reset my psyche.
My breaking point came in early 2005, when our local Seattle Seahawks faced the St. Louis Rams in a playoff game. The big game came on the heels of an exceptionally hectic holiday season. In additional to the usual parties, shopping, gift-wrapping, baking and card-writing, we had hosted a gathering for my husband’s colleagues, spent Christmas eve with his extended family (then 24 members), cooked Christmas Day dinner for a dozen relatives, and, a few days later, invited the clan to celebrate the birthdays of one of my sons (Dec. 26) and my husband (Dec. 28).
Following the New Year’s Day Open House we held for our neighbors, we un-trimmed the tree and boxed up decorations. That Saturday night, we attended a niece’s birthday party. When we returned home, I fell into bed, totally exhausted and anticipating a peaceful Sunday.
Sunday morning, as I was flipping pancakes and frying bacon, my husband looked up from the sports section and said, “By the way, the Seahawks game is on at 1 o’clock.”
“Great,” I replied, with my usual lack of enthusiasm for football talk. “Now I know when to hit the gym.”
“Oh, and last night when I was talking to my folks, I invited them to come watch the game,” he added. “My brother overheard us, and then my sister joined in, so I offered to host everyone here. They all love your homemade chili, so I said you’d make up a batch; hope you don’t mind.”
I did mind, and probably should have suggested we order pizza. Instead, I rushed off to the supermarket to gather up kidney beans, ground beef, canned tomatoes, chips, dips, sodas and beer. Ironically, I ran into Carol in Aisle 4, and she noticed that my cart didn’t include the usual Sunday-morning rations: eggs, milk, sausage links and maple bars. “Are you hosting another party?” she asked. “Haven’t you done enough this season?”
After the game, my husband tackled the cleanup (he’s good about that) and retreated into his “man cave” – his home office. An hour later, he emerged and announced, “Well, it’s all set. I was just on the phone with “Bob,” and we set the date for our spring trip to Montana. His wife bought him a new fly rod for Christmas, and he’s really excited about trying it out.”
I was feeling stressed, tired, overworked and underappreciated, and at that moment, I hit my breaking point. Once the floodgates opened, I couldn’t stop the steady stream of unkind words spewing from my mouth. After I had finally run out of complaints, my husband reminded me that much of what I had taken on over the holidays had been my own choice, and that there was nothing wrong with a hard-working guy enjoying a football game, a few beers and even a fishing weekend with good friends.
“Why don’t you take a trip?” he suggested.
Why not, indeed? I realized the only roadblock was me. So, the next morning, I called Carol and asked, “When do we leave for Paris?” And just four months later, we did.
Since then, I have tried to pace myself during the holidays. And now, whenever I near that breaking point, I start making plans for another brief break with my girlfriends.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 31 Jan. 2011
A question that I often field is why is our blog titled “Permission Slips”? The inspiration for the name came from one word: GUILT. Through our writing, we encourage women to give themselves permission to let go of guilt and become happier and healthier.
During any given week from September through June, most moms of school-age children will sign a piece of paper that grants permission to enjoy a field trip or an overnight event. She will sign the slip quickly, accompanied by an exclamatory, “Oh, how fun! This will be so enriching, and a good break from the routine!”
Yet, we struggle to give ourselves time off to do interesting adventures, as though our own mental stimulation did not matter. We will drop everything to aid an ailing relative or to participate in a three-day “walk for the cure.” As long as our time off tangentially benefits someone else, we are good to go.
Moms are masters at self-guilt. Long before the term streaming was used to describe a news or entertainment feed, moms “streamed” a silent mental monologue that constantly questioned how time and effort was allocated. Just in my first hour of waking today I wondered: Did I use the right combination of patience, humor, firmness and coaching with my tricky teenager? Can I fit in exercise for me and the dog before I leave? Will I be able to complete my work “to do” list before the deadline? Was it right of me to pass on preparing a dish for the teacher’s appreciation lunch? And on and on it went.
Last week Linda and I did a focus group with moms. We asked the women why they can’t seem to give themselves permission to take time out from motherhood for restorative breaks without their families. They offered a heaping helping of reasons:
- Childcare – If they did not have a relative nearby, they found it difficult to arrange supervision that allowed them to feel comfortable leaving the kids behind. They also did not want to burden a dad who they recognized as also being taxed. Yet, they did not worry about their own burnout.
- Spending Money – They felt guilty about spending money on themselves that could be spent on a different household priority. Isn’t there always an alternative priority?
- Fairness – They felt it would not be fair to have a fun experience that their partner had not had, such as a trip to Europe or a great new restaurant. Wouldn’t it be rewarding for your partner to see you happy and invigorated by a new experience?
- Worry – They were concerned about events that might occur in their absence. Yes, we are by nature worriers, but leave the crystal ball behind.
In spite of the self-imposed roadblocks, one mom did come up with a solution to shed the guilt: Take a time-out in baby steps by going one night at a time. “Train” to build up your capacity so that you can get the refresh needed to be more effective in all your relationships. All the moms agreed that they never regretted time with girlfriends, even if the times were few. So, take the first step and resolve to go. Nudge your friends who need a little extra push and support.
Perhaps we need to re-name our website “Get Rid of Guilt!”
–Carol Lewis Gullstad, Jan. 24, 2011
Last Tuesday, when I was working in my writer’s studio (AKA Starbuck’s), an old friend told me about a talk-show segment she had seen. “It was about how girlfriends are good for our health,” she said. “They actually lower our blood pressure and extend our lives.”
Of course, those of us blessed with fantastic friends already understand their virtues. In fact, that’s why Carol and I started taking vacations together, and later decided to write a book about girlfriend getaways.
Nevertheless, I searched the internet for the study Eileen mentioned. I found a recent blog post by Oprah’s “Dr. Oz” and Dr. Michael F. Roizen, which states that according to a new study of 300,000 people, those with good friends have a 50 percent chance of living longer than those without.
I ran across several articles and postings about the ten-year “Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging,” which found that “greater networks with friends [are] protective against mortality.” That study inspired a 2008 article by Tamara Hanson, in which Dianne Ruth, PhD, says, “Having a friend is what keeps us sane, makes us laugh and allows us to be who we need to be. We empower each other and appreciate each other when no one else will.”
Going one step further, Hanson refers to a UCLA study by Dr. Laura Cousino Klein and Dr. Shelley Taylor, which explains that when women are stressed, their bodies release the calming hormone Oxytocin. And when stressed women spend time with kids or girlfriends, their bodies release even more Oxytocin.
“The consistent message of these studies is that friends make your life better,” says Karen A. Roberto, director of the center for gerontology at Virginia Tech, in a 2009 New York Times article by Tara Parker-Pope.
Throughout my roller-coast ride of a life (whose isn’t?), I have found Roberto’s assessment consistently true. I truly treasure my friends, and often rely on their wit, wisdom and calming effects. And although I have a wonderful husband and four fabulous kids—who are terrific travel companions–some of my most memorable trips (biking through Switzerland, sailing around the Virgin Islands, partying at Venice’s Carnevale, singing karaoke in Vegas, cooking in Bologna and surfing in Hawaii) have been with girlfriends. Here’s why:
Girlfriends take care of themselves. When women travel with their families, they usually return home exhausted. Family vacations provide a break from paid jobs, but not from motherhood. While away, we still attend to the family’s needs (are the kids hungry, tired, bored or at each other’s throats?), but without the breaks we get at home. Good girlfriends know what to eat when they’re hungry, how to dress for the weather and when to give us space.
Girlfriends tell you the truth. On getaways together, girlfriends have uninterrupted time for deep conversation. Reality checks are par for the course: we avail ourselves to honest feedback about our lives. What’s more, a true girlfriend will tell you when an outfit makes your butt look too big, a green sweater makes you look sallow or your shoes are outdated.
Girlfriends let you be yourself. A resounding theme among the women Carol and I have interviewed for our book is that on trips with good friends, they remember who they really are. We slide back into personalities formed before we took on the mantle of motherhood. We relax, knowing that our friends chose us for who we were, not for what we or our partners have achieved, how talented our kids are or how well we’re aging,
So, let’s all remember to make time for girlfriend getaways. The experts say our lives depend on it.
– Linda Williams Rorem, 17 Jan. 2011
This Friday, my husband will depart on a weeklong business trip to India, and I can predict how his “To-Do” list will read: “Throw clothes and toiletries into suitcase and zip it shut.”
It’s the same list whether he travels for work (he’s a management consultant with clients and colleagues across the country), school reunions or fly-fishing getaways.
I’m sure he has a host of professional issues to handle before take-off – alerting clients and colleagues to his absence, rescheduling meetings, tackling paperwork and filing expense reports – but he won’t concern himself with matters at home. Here’s what won’t be on his “To-Do” list:
- Check the calendar for the kids’ activities, and line up rides to every event;
- Discuss upcoming homework assignments and tests, and draw up a schedule for completing all necessary work;
- Ensure that the fridge is stocked and meals have been prepared in advance;
- Make sure that every stitch of laundry is washed and folded;
- Delegate household chores, including feeding pets, watering plants, taking out garbage and retrieving mail;
- And on and on…
You’ve probably guessed by now that the above items always occupy my pre-vacation “To-Do” lists. When the kids were younger, I shudder to recall, I even laid out their outfits for the week (Heaven forbid they should attend preschool in clashing colors).
Because of my husband’s travel schedule – often Monday–Friday when the children were little – I always felt over-taxed and hyper-stressed. Back then, when I was still trying to hold on to my “outside the home” job, the only way I could hold it all together was through organizational skills….or, as my husband probably felt, micromanagement.
Back then, on the rare occasions that I traveled for work or fun, I hired extra sitters and called in favors with friends; I was careful not to add to my husband’s load. I always felt guilty about leaving home, and wanted to ensure that my absence didn’t impact the family. I also wanted to prevent mayhem from ensuing, so I would have “permission” to take off again.
However, I now realize that when I traveled – either for work or for pleasure – I tried to run the family show from afar. I also recognize that in so doing, I denied my husband the chance to rise to the occasion, to gain confidence in his parenting skills and to manage the household his own way.
So now, instead of begrudging my husband’s lack of attention to household matters, I’m going to steal a page from his book. I need to appreciate his faith in my parenting abilities, and reciprocate that confidence. Next time I prepare for a trip, I’ll focus on letting go when I’m packing up:
1. I’ll remind my husband where the calendar is kept, and insist the kids manage their own schedules. If they miss something, they can make it up later, or suffer the consequences.
2. I will let the kids worry about their own homework. If they need help, they can ask their dad, call a friend or schedule a meeting with the teacher. If they forget to study for a test, the results will reinforce the need for preparation.
3. I will buy groceries as usual, but I won’t cook and freeze meals ahead of time. The kids all know how to make Top Ramen and Mac ’N’ Cheese, and, as I recall, my husband has a few tasty dishes up his sleeve (he used one to woo me back in the day…). Besides, no one ever contracted scurvy from one week of pizza and take-out Chinese food.
4. I’ll tell each teen that if his beloved DMB T-shirt isn’t clean, he can dig for alternatives…or run the washer himself.
5. I’ll remember that even if the plants dry out, the mail clogs the box and the cat resorts to catching mice and drinking from the toilet, the house will still be standing when I return.
When my husband zips up his suitcase and grabs his passport this Friday morning, I won’t make any cutting remarks about his trip preparations. I resolve to smile, kiss him good-bye… and start making plans for my next getaway. And this time, I’ll remember my own “To-Don’t” list!
— Linda Williams Rorem, 3 Jan. 2011