I 'abandoned' my kids & went on a solo holiday for my 40th – friends called me 'selfish' but every mum needs a 'me-cay'

AFTER the past 21 months, all writer and frazzled mum-of-two Eimear O’Hagan wanted for her birthday was some time alone.

Lying by the pool, a book and a cocktail to hand, I sighed contentedly.

The only decisions that lay ahead of me were which of the hotel’s restaurants to go to, and what movie I should watch after my hot stone massage.

In August this year, I waved goodbye to my husband and two children and spent a couple of days alone at the luxurious Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire.

It was my 40th-birthday gift to myself.

I had considered marking the milestone celebration with a party, but Covid made that too difficult.

Then I pondered treating myself to jewellery, but it struck me that after 18 months of lockdowns, homeschooling our sons Ruadhan, six, and Donnacha, four, and WFH, the only thing I really wanted was a break from… well, everything!

Even though I adore my family, I couldn’t think of a greater present than being temporarily relieved of all the balls every working mother has to juggle non-stop.

As I shared my plans with my husband Malcolm, 40, I felt nervous.

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him that he was NFI, but thankfully he thought it was a brilliant idea.

Relieved, I excitedly made a booking. I’d stayed at Gleneagles for a wedding in 2010, but had always dreamed of returning.

It’s not cheap, and I felt a flash of guilt spending so much on myself, but I’d saved for months, and you only turn 40 once.

As the train pulled away, I felt elated. I knew Malcolm and our sons would enjoy some 'boy time' and that ahead of me lay complete freedom.

A few days after my actual birthday – which I marked with cake and a meal with Malcolm and a few friends – I packed my bags and set off from our home in the Scottish Borders.

As the train pulled away, I felt elated. I knew Malcolm and our sons would enjoy some “boy time” and that ahead of me lay complete freedom.

For two heavenly days, I walked in the sun, ate delicious food, was pampered in the spa and binge-watched The White Lotus and Celebrity MasterChef. 

I showered and went to the loo without an audience. I slept in a marshmallow-soft king-size bed for 12 uninterrupted hours.

There were no snotty noses or bottoms to wipe, no snacks to prepare, no laundry to do.

All the choices I made were for myself, when usually – as something every mother will relate to – my needs and wants are last on the list, never more so than during the pandemic, when there has been no respite.

For the most part, reactions to my trip were positive. Some friends even said I’d inspired them to book a solo break.

There were, however, a few raised eyebrows, including one judgy mum who asked if I felt guilty for “abandoning” my children.

Another said she could never be so “selfish” with her time and money.

I asked clinical psychologist and busy working mother Dr Laura Williams if my craving for time away made me a selfish mother.

I returned home from my trip rested, refreshed and feeling calmer and happier than I had in many months.

“Definitely not,” she said. “Especially not after the past 21 months. Although humans are social animals, what we’ve been through since the pandemic began – stuck together for weeks at a time – isn’t normal or healthy.

It’s caused us to be overstimulated, unable to switch off and process our thoughts and emotions.

That’s left many people fatigued and stressed, and like you, craving time out.

“Taking that time out – alone – is fantastic for your mental health. It’s an opportunity to stop, reflect and reset, with zero interruptions or distractions. What a brilliant gift to yourself.”

I returned home from my trip rested, refreshed and feeling calmer and happier than I had in many months.

Seeing Malcolm and the boys waiting for me at the station, I knew I was coming back to them a better version of myself than I’d been when I’d left – low on patience, energy and enthusiasm, high on irritability and intolerance.

Entering a new decade feeling revived and reminded that I matter was wonderfully empowering. In fact, I’m already saving for next year’s trip…

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