MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 26-Mar-14 16:54:47

Guest post: 'As a mother, why do I have to justify taking time for myself?'

In January, MN blogger Ingrid Kirkegaard left her family in order to go away for a month and write. Many people she told were incredulous - and yet nobody batted an eyelid when her partner went to China for the same amount of time to work.

In this guest post, she questions why people are so shocked at the prospect of a woman choosing to be apart from her family, and challenges society's apparent belief that children 'belong' to their mother.

Do read the post and let us know what you think on the thread below.

Ingrid Kirkegaard

Dutch Courage

Posted on: Wed 26-Mar-14 16:54:47

(97 comments )

Lead photo

Why are people so incredulous about women choosing to spend time away from their children?

Towards the end of January, I left my husband and children and went away for a month. I went to write a book, which I had been researching and thinking about since the end of 2009. I had been struggling to find a way to write regularly, and I was terribly frustrated.

Before I went, people were a mixture of incredulous, aghast and envious. ‘A month?’ was the usual uncensored reaction. And yet when my husband went away for the same period in November, no one batted an eyelid. Travelling to the other side of the world for a month to earn money is considered a ‘good thing’, if a man does it. My husband was a hero in all respects: for going to China to work, for suggesting I have a month away to match his, and for holding the fort while I was absent.

It didn't seem to make any difference that I was also going away to work too - that writing is my work. My favourite response came from a complete stranger in the form of a tweet: “A month away from your kids to write? Seriously?! I miss mine after a weekend! Quite selfish really!”

So why are people so shocked by a woman choosing to be apart from her children? The idea stubbornly persists, like a grass stain on trousers, that children belong to the mother. Mothers are always assumed to be the primary carers. Is it because babies come out of their bodies? Some would argue it is natural, but I'd argue it's cultural: a hangover from a patriarchy in which women were aligned with household goods as so many pieces of property. It's a prejudice that needs to be changed. Children belong to themselves, and men and women make them and raise them.

Once women become mothers, it is astonishingly simple to convince that they no longer need or deserve this kind of time; that they must keep all the domestic plates spinning, so that everyone around them can live full and meaningful lives.


My month away was ‘me time’, but not in the way that consumerism has sold it back to us. I didn't need a bubble bath or a pedicure - why on earth would I want to spend the precious free minutes I do have trapped in an overheated salon with a total stranger buffing my toes? What I needed was time away from the domestic space to think. Once women become mothers, it is astonishingly simple to convince that they no longer need or deserve this kind of time; that they must keep all the domestic plates spinning, so that everyone around them can live full and meaningful lives.

Before I went, I would try to write every day - and every day, errands and chores would claim my attention. I found it absolutely impossible, whatever rituals and tricks I tried, to get anywhere. I just felt I couldn't sit down until everything - with the kids, the house - was taken care of. And it’s not that my husband doesn't pull his weight (he does), but it is in my head all the time, like limescale. Will the kids get to their after-school club? What's the GPs number? Where's the PE kit?

And - would you believe - my husband coped just fine. He had the kids’ timetable pinned to the fridge, made his meal plans, shopped for them, worked from home, did his best to get them to their after-school activities, and didn't worry about it when our son baulked. He made them do their homework, he read to them, he squabbled with them, and got frustrated - just like I do. By the end of the month he was telling me authoritatively that "the children are just doing too many activities".

I wrote over 50,000 words in 20 days. I didn't really take time off, so much as go away to use my time better, and come back finally relieved of what had been in my head for four years. I was incredibly lucky to have this time – a husband currently working from home, an opportunity seized. But the questions remain: why do we hear so rarely of mothers leaving the family to pursue - for however brief a time - their work, their passions, their dreams? Is it societal pressure? Unwilling partners? The limits we ourselves place on our own desires? Or a combination, perhaps, of all three?

In memory of my beautiful friend Jane Richardson, who died from Ovarian Cancer in February. Thank goodness for the ‘me time’ we had.

By Ingrid Kirkegaard

Twitter: @kirkegaarding

NurseyWursey Wed 26-Mar-14 17:46:24

Leaving your family for a month to work and earn money to support it is different than taking a month away for self indulgent purposes.

Fair enough the blogger wrote a book, but the title says 'justify taking time for myself'

Taking time for myself to me is having an afternoon or morning of peace, going out with my friends of a weekend.. not sodding off for a month.

Yeah, "to you" time for yourself is that.

What gives you the right to judge the OP for how she defines it? It's not like she left her children without proper care and emotional support, there's no difference between what she did and what her DH did. Unless you hold to different standards for men and women, of course.

And why isn't writing proper work? confused

maggiemight Wed 26-Mar-14 18:32:02

Leaving your family for a month to work and earn money to support it is different than taking a month away for self indulgent purposes

Ooooo, Nursey, I think you are leaving yourself wide open here. Are you saying no woman should leave her family, presuming they are well looked after while she is away, for a month - bluddy hell, if you have 2 kids a couple of years apart, like the average, you are saying no woman can take a month off in the 20 years it takes them to adult hood, ie not one month in 240. And this doesn't apply to men does it?

Women are their own worst enemies imo.

aprilanne Wed 26-Mar-14 18:35:41

probably get slated but here goes .she is the children,s mother .i mean most of us are happy with an afternoon out to lunch but a whole month .just to write.i don,t think its a career just something she fancied doing .to be honest .our family have had an horrendous year .another story .but really words fail me how she is trying to justify this

maggiemight Wed 26-Mar-14 18:48:34

I disagree as I think we over-rate the importance of mothers, maybe because we want to be that important to our DCs.

Do the DCs of single fathers all go to the dogs?

In fact teaching DCs that they can survive without the household slave manager that is their mother is a good thing. It would mean they see their future and lives as their responsibility, not something that must have a doting martyr around to fix everything for them.

Someone on FB shared a picture recently. It said:

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always

I'm sorry you've had a hard year aprilanne flowers but the OP really doesn't need to justify her decision to take a month away from family responsibility to write. To anyone other than herself and those involved. And even then she doesn't have to 'justify' it, she just has to be comfortable with her decision.

Greenrememberedhills Wed 26-Mar-14 19:03:44

Fair play to you. Your book is work.

bumbumsmummy Wed 26-Mar-14 19:05:30

If our children cease to need us the older they get then we have done our job properly

However as a society we love to women bash and that includes the sisterhood . We are damned if we do and damned if we don't so I say bugger it do what's right for you and your family and STOP justifying your decisions to the rest of the world.

Have confidence that as a adult you can chose what's right and get on with it

PS the husband is a hero bollocks is getting old now

Why do we really have to judge other women for everything they do? She was working. Writing can be work, and even if not, we shouldn't need to judge her unfavourably for it.

NurseyWursey Wed 26-Mar-14 19:18:47

And why isn't writing proper work?

I didnt say it wasn't, which is why I noted the comparison between OP's title (taking time out for herself) and what she actually did (writing a book aka work)

Women can and should take care of themselves and give themselves time, I'm just not sure why they have to take a month away to do so.

And yes I'd say the same for a man.

NurseyWursey Wed 26-Mar-14 19:24:38

Unless there was mental health issues which meant they had to get away for a while.

MaitreKarlsson Wed 26-Mar-14 19:42:14

Very good post, definitely thought-provoking. Thanks OP.

capsium Wed 26-Mar-14 19:55:50

I would hate my DH to go away for a month but I would not particularly want to either. I would want my DC to go away, to school for example either.

I like our life together.

However people can make this work. People are amazingly diverse, adaptable and resourceful. So if it did have to happen I'd be determined to make it work.

capsium Wed 26-Mar-14 19:56:56

That should read 'I would not want my DC to go away..'

capsium Wed 26-Mar-14 19:58:21

But if it works for your family, why the need to justify it to anyone else?

modernbumpkin Wed 26-Mar-14 20:00:25

Why does anyone think they have the right to tell this woman what they think? Why should she even care. Jealousy is the only reason anyone thinks it's not ok to spend a month writing rather than chasing kids around. I'm pretty damn sure her kids didn't suffer and if you asked them they probably just missed her a bit. Like she probably did them. Give it a rest ladies why can't we all just be a little more supportive and a whole less judgemental.

theyoniwayisnorthwards Wed 26-Mar-14 20:15:24

My Dad used to have to go away got work for a month at a time about twice a year when we were little. I remember missing him horribly and I would not like either DP or I to be away from the kids for that length of time if at all possible.

That said, my kids are tiny, maybe I'll feel differently when they're older. The writer does not need to defend her actions but I see why she feels pressure to and I too would be furious at the double standard apparent in nobody critiquing her husband's decision to travel.

CorporateRockWhore Wed 26-Mar-14 20:20:22

I'm just bloody jealous, actually...

It would undoubtedly be very difficult, emotionally, for myself, my children and my husband, if one of us were to be away for a month. However, I think there are many, many things in the world worse for a child, than to be taken care of by one loving parent whilst the other is busy for a while.

I'm in a phase of life where I'm casting around looking for something to do that really matters and so I have put myself forward for a couple of jobs that might involve trips to Africa. My children would miss me, and I them, but they would be at home, in their safe routine, with their very loving capable dad.

I think that is no bad thing to teach our children, especially our daughters.

SwimmingMom Wed 26-Mar-14 20:30:56

Well done OP, we need more of your kind (and more men like your DH). I do occasionally have to be abroad for a week - and my DH does fine. I don't need anyone's buy in but his.

NurseyWursey Wed 26-Mar-14 20:33:50

I don't really think people should pass comment if someone choses to do it though. I have my private prejudices - which may be right or wrong - but I wouldn't dream of expressing them to a friend, co worker, acquaintance etc. I'd be happy for them.

That's fair enough Nursey, we all have our knee-jerk reactions. We're all socialised to judge men and women differently. It's good that you would be happy for someone who wanted to do this and could.

Jeregrette Wed 26-Mar-14 20:49:38

Since we have had DC (6 yrs ago), my DH has been away for three mini breaks, one lads weekend, two courses (non work). He is shortly going on another.

I have had the odd day away but until this year never spent a night away from them. My DH would be happy for me to go away for a weekend but I choose not to. They are still so small and I'll have plenty of time to do this when they are older.

I do sometimes resent that DH chooses to go away and relies on me being happy to facilitate this by providing the childcare but I can't complain too much as he always tells me to do the same.

Don't begrudge OP her month. She is happy to do it, her DH is happy for her to do it- All is fine.

thornrose Wed 26-Mar-14 21:11:37

I've read lots of posts on MN questioning why someone should want a 'break' from their children even for one night.

In RL my family and friends understand that having some time away from your children does not make you a monster!

BeyonceB Wed 26-Mar-14 21:16:43

This is such a brilliant post. Corporate, you're so right about sending out the right message to our daughters. Mindsets need to change wink

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