Being a parent can be hard work. Having other parents around you who understand that fact is key to not losing yourself or your mind in this journey some of us choose to take.
I never felt like I lost myself in parenting, but it wasn't until I went to a full weekend away at Mum Camp that I truly understood the importance of filling my own cup so I can continue to fill others'.
Since having my kids, I've been pretty aware of how self-care affects my parenting, but I like being with my kids, and I enjoy being a stay-at-home mum and not missing a thing when it comes to their growth and development.
So until I removed myself completely from the go-go-go of motherhood and took myself off autopilot, I never realised what a breath of fresh air it was to hang out with other mums without our kids.
We were able to laugh at inappropriate jokes, commiserate with stories of bedtime or potty-training woes, and most importantly have real, uninterrupted adult conversation. I mean, wow, just take that in for a second. Uninterrupted. Adult. Conversation.
No matter how much I adore my children, it doesn't mean they don't make me feel like an actual crazy person. Like when I am following 37 different trains of thought as I'm trying to tie a squirmy child's shoe, answer another "why" question, and nurse a toddler, all with the other adult in the conversation staring at me blankly, thinking, "What the hell is she talking about?!"
That, my friends, was not the case at the blissful weekend at Mum Camp. I came home rejuvenated and readier than ever to be the best mum I can be.
When I first heard about this weekend-long camp just for mums, I thought two things: First, it sounded too good to be true (it advertised napping as a camp activity! I do not know any mother who is not enticed by any amount of extra sleep). And second, I thought there's no way I can make a weekend away work for our family; I am the primary caregiver at all times, and I am still breastfeeding.
But with exuberant encouragement from my husband and my mother (were they trying to tell me something?) who would tag team the kids while I was away, I registered for camp. Along with napping, camp activities (all optional) included yoga, swimming, late-morning coffee, hiking, craft time, reading under the shade of a tree, eating home-cooked meals, and an end-of-camp fireside "therapy session" where everyone was encouraged to just be themselves and chat . . . and also eat some gourmet s'mores while only having to clean the melted marshmallow stickiness off our own two hands.
While I must admit leaving the kids always gives me anxiety, I tried my best to focus on the positives we would all be gaining from a weekend apart. As the camp date grew nearer, I fluctuated between a mix of anxiety and excitement. First, I set out everything for the kids' weekend, then I was able to focus on prepping for myself. I packed my sunscreen, bug spray, real bra (that's right, Mum Camp meant no stretched-out nursing bra), and bathing suit and headed to camp!
Well, first I stopped at the liquor store and got my favourite drinks and some wine for the host. Then I arrived to open arms and a "welcome to camp" happy hour. I knew some of the mums but met new faces as well. I could feel the stress of not being with my kids melting away as we all mingled over margaritas.
The camp aspect of this weekend was also what made it special and different from a girls' trip or weekend away with friends. I didn't know everyone, and I got to be vulnerable and make new friends — which isn't always easy to do as an adult. I experienced new perspectives and made new deep connections, which was one of my favourite parts of going to Summer camp as a kid.
I found myself laughing and smiling in a way I hadn't since sitting around my dorm room with my girlfriends in college. A group of mums from all walks of life, sitting around a table playing games and sharing stories. Whether we were mums to infants, toddlers, or high schoolers; boy mums, girl mums, or both; whether we were married, remarried, or single; it was the picture of perfection I never knew I needed. We got each other.
Of course, I smile with my kids, they make me laugh in ways I never knew I could, but it had been years since I sat around with a group of women and just let myself be me. Not mum-me, but me-me. All the things I do as part of my job as a mum were taken away. This allowed me to care for myself and make connections and bonds with other women on levels that had nothing to do with being a mum.
I laid by the pool without worrying the second I closed my eyes would be the second my child would fall in. I ate freshly prepared meals (that I didn't cook myself!) without having to take cold bites between reprimanding my toddler for mashing his dinner into the dog's coat and refilling my daughter's cup.
With all the mum responsibility taken away, I was stripped down to who I am as a woman and not a mother. These responsibilities are things I don't mind and actually enjoy, but they are also completed on such a subconscious level that I don't even realise I am doing them.
Taking a step away gave me the opportunity to respect myself for what I do as a mum. It made me realise that when I say I feel like I did nothing all day, what I was really doing was not just taking care of kids all day but nurturing young minds, modelling appropriate behaviour to young citizens, and making sure they feel like they matter while maybe forgetting that I, too, matter.
As a mum, you're told to take time for yourself, that you need it, but I didn't know how true that was until I was driving home from camp with the windows down and a smile on my face that was there because of connections I made with other mums and my disconnection with my title of Mum.
Because I stay home with my kids, it's my job. People with "regular" jobs take time off when they need it so they can get away from the hustle and return as their best selves Monday morning. So that's what Mum Camp made me do. I took the time. I don't feel guilty about it, and I am glad I did it.
Taking this time to reflect is what recharged me and ultimately sent me home as the badass mum I know I am; a woman who thrives off her job as a mother, yet still knows and loves who she is.