Why I Take Time Off From My Family

woman enjoying breakfast outdoors
Love, Family

A natural loner, now a wife and mother of two, goes on regular sabbatical.

In the last two weeks, I have only seen my husband and two sons for less than 24 hours and that is just fine with me. I love them all, enormously. But I love being alone, too. It's what feels natural to me. This was my biggest concern before getting married—could I live with someone, or several someones, for an extended time, no matter how much love was involved? To my relief, I discovered having a family, and living with them, is lovely—but only most of the time.

I'm not craving the popular "me" time that many women’s magazines tout... getting manicures or reading poetry in a bubble bath. In a house with three males, I get enough of those escapes, like when the World Cup recently overtook their imaginations. No. What I'm after, on a fairly regular basis, is "absence of them" time.

I've always been a happy loner, perhaps because I grew up as a sort-of only child, whose siblings left for college when I started kindergarten. I was on my own a lot—and liked it. I requested single dorm rooms in college, and lived alone before moving in with Frank at 26. Even then, our divergent interests and my business trips sated my taste for solo stints. Living Apart: The Key To Wedded Bliss?

Then the kids arrived and, for 11 years, I was what my mother's generation might have called "tied down." I didn't feel restricted so much as rooted, but even the most nourishing roots can bulge from an unseen rot far below the surface.

About five years ago, that simmering, unmet need for solitary time coincided with a desire to complete a graduate degree. I chose a "low residency" program—12 days on a distant campus, five times over two years. And just like that, I was on my own 24 days a year.

Being apart, though hard at first for my younger son, barely 8 when I began the program, turned out to be a terrific experience for the testosterone-laden trio, who learned they could survive, even thrive, minus Mom. For me, the thrill began each time I started the seven-hour drive from New Jersey to the Southern Maine campus; I even snuck in an extra "decompression" day on the trip home.

There were unintended benefits to these trips, like showing my sons that one is never too old for education. But what I really learned is that a fairly regular "sabbatical" from family life is essential to my admittedly idiosyncratic and certainly selfish sense of well-being. I quickly realized that I'd better figure out how to have those time-outs once the program ended.