Runaway Moms: Could You Be Next?

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egret bird
Photo by Sheri Reed

Thankfully, runaway mom and wife Tiffany Tehan, who everyone thought had been abducted in Ohio last weekend, was found safe and sound -- in a car outside a hotel in Florida with her boyfriend.

Wow, what kind of mother worries about the day when her own needs will finally become more important than those of her children? What kind of mother worries about the day she might run away from home and never come back?

(Raises hand.)

While my escapist fantasies don't include Miami Beach or a guy with a mullet and a goatee -- or any guy, for that matter -- nor do they include faking my own abduction and scaring the crap out of my husband, kids, family, and friends -- they do exist.

It's hard as hell to admit it but: I worry (and dream) about becoming the next runaway mother.

I remember in college, before I was a mom, reading the book Rich in Love, in which the mother of the teenage protagonist decides one day to leave her husband and her family. She's out running errands with her family one afternoon and she catches a glimpse of the water's edge.

"I saw the water, the way it sparkles," she tells her daughter, "and I thought to myself, I would like to live a completely different existence." She continues, "Then at home I couldn't get it out of my head. Everything at home seemed foreign. Worse than foreign, it seemed ... sickening. It wasn't mine. I wanted to start a new life."

Back then and even now, I'm horrified by the thought of a mother up and leaving her family, just deciding overnight that she chose the wrong path for herself. However, I'm mostly horrified because even on a good day, I find the constraints of motherhood difficult, and I wonder if some day, in an ordinary moment, the mother who suddenly realizes she feels this way about her life will be me.

Of course, it's not the 1950s or anything; it's not even the 1980s anymore. I have plenty of freedom from family life, and I take advantage of that freedom even more than most of my mom peers do. With my husband's blessing and support, I take overnight getaways to and with girlfriends, pursue my creative interests, and jump at the chance to travel for work. Not every weekend but regularly. My husband has even been teased by more traditional thinkers for giving me "long leash" (eye roll).

However, while I do take off now and again, I'm also dedicated to my family, trying to spend a little time at both boys' schools atop my busy work schedule, hardly ever missing my oldest son's baseball games or dinner with my family. But do I sometimes make myself insane trying to uphold this dedication? Oh yeah.

So why do I always feel so guilty for doing what I need to do to stay happy, fulfilled, and sane? And why do I feel like I'm always in a panic, trying to reign my own life back before it gets away from me?

Lisen Stromberg"Goodbye Helicopters: The Rise of Humvee Parenting"If the 1950s woman was trapped behind her man, is the 2010 woman trapped behind her steering wheel in an effort to support her kids?"

Oh wow, sometimes I do feel trapped. And we're just at the cusp of the activities to come for our kids. If I keep my boys in sports and other activities, even under my "one activity at a time" rule, I can see my own life getting away from me once both of them are involved in things.

Sure, I want it all for my boys. I want them to learn and enjoy as much as they can in their lifetimes. Some afternoons I'll even catch myself fantasizing about all the things I'd like to see them do (wait, are those my dreams or their dreams?). But I have just as many, if not more, fantasies about my own life too. Do I have to put them on hold? Is that what I chose to do when I had children?

I completely relate when Stromberg says, "I’d like to take up soccer. I miss playing tennis. The 15 or more hours I spend each week sitting in the bleachers, on the sidelines, along the court, could be spent learning a new language, reviving my long lost love of piano, taking that photography class I’ve always said I would. As I rush around to prepare for my children’s future, my present is evaporating."

That's right, our present is evaporating ... and the constant nagging of this fact has me stuck between feeling self-centered and feeling like a gigantic martyr. I do take time for myself. But I always feel guilty. I feel weird even, especially because most of the mothers I know don't "run away" as much as I do -- whether they feel they can't or they don't feel the need to, I'm not sure ...

Fortunately, unlike Tiffany Tehan, I haven't woken up so desperately wanting a new life that I led the nation on a missing persons hunt. Luckily, unlike the mom in Rich in Love, I don't feel that I want a "completely different existence." My home life doesn't feel "foreign" to me -- although I can entirely understand how that can happen. 

However, as hard as it is to write this, I'm pretty sure I haven't woken up feeling this way because I do take time away -- because I need it and I know I need it. My most fulfilling weeks aren't those spent entirely with my kids. My favorite weeks are those spent with a good balance of work, kid time, husband time, friend time, and me time. The days that are spent entirely with my kids are made bearable to me because I do leave them behind sometimes.

I guess I wonder how other mothers feel about this. I know not everyone feels like I do (which makes me feel scared and strange!). While I completely believe every mother needs time away from her family sometimes, I know not every mother needs or wants time away on a very regular basis.

So tell me, how do you nurture yourself and your kids at the same time? Can you feel it when your life is getting off-kilter? Do the runaway dreams start then?

emotional health, stress, time for you