Why it's crucial for parents to take a guilt-free break from relentless childcare
While family holidays are lovely, let's be honest, there is nothing a parent craves more than a child-free break. So why are parents so reluctant to take them?
The first time I left my first-born child, I cried the whole way to the airport. I was going to London for one night for work and I was terrified about leaving him, even though he was in safe hands with my parents.
However, if I'm being honest, by the time I actually boarded the plane, I realised that being alone was pretty nice.
Every time I've left the children since to go away has been hard. But it does get easier and whether it's travelling for work or pleasure, it reminds you that you are a person in your own right. It reminds you that you are not just a carer/minder/slave.
Mothers tend to neglect themselves and always put the children first. It's easy to lose yourself and your identity when you become a mother. So it's important to take a break and have a life outside the home.
Not long ago, I went away for two nights with some girlfriends and it was one of best experiences of my life. Those two days were full of laughter and relaxation and all four of us came back rested and with a renewed energy for our daily lives.
But child-free holidays are not without controversy. Some parents harshly judge those who leave their children to go away. Guilt, and worry about how they will be judged by their peers, prevents a lot of mums from taking time out from the daily grind.
According to research by 'Parents' Magazine, eight out of 10 people said they could not leave their children to go on holidays with a clear conscience. And 30pc suggested there is an element of moral reprehensibility to going away with your partner but not your baby.
So have we gone too far with this new wave of over-parenting, where our children need to be micro-managed 24/7? These days, parents are putting their child's every need and want before their own. But surely this is not healthy for either the parents or the children?
Jennifer Senior, author of 'All Joy and No Fun', says early parenthood is the phase during which people are, in fact, "least happy".
Parents of young children tend to wander around in a sleep-deprived haze. Sometimes just getting to the end of the day feels akin to climbing Mount Everest with two broken legs and a 50kg bag on your back.
So why are we so hard on ourselves about taking a break? For some it's because they feel guilty, for others it's anxiety about leaving their children in the care of others. Then you have parents who feel it's too indulgent and even neglectful.
Parents need to remind themselves that they are people too. Everyone needs a break. It is often the stay-at-home mums who feel the most guilt about leaving their babies and yet they are the ones who need the holiday the most.
We must remember that it's healthy for children to see their mothers as human beings, with interests and identities of their own.
It's also good for children to be minded by others and to learn to be less clingy and dependent on one person. Far from it being selfish, it's crucial for mums to take a break from their kids.
Sue Scheff, a consultant to families of difficult teens, believes time away can help make anyone a better parent, whether they're single or married, the parent of a baby or a young adult. And she says a healthy dose of separation actually does go both ways.
"Every toddler and teen is also entitled to a little time off from their parents, too," Ms Scheff explains. "It helps them grow in their independence."
It's important for mums and couples to remember what it's like to have time alone. It's important for your relationship to be able to have fun together and not just argue over who got more sleep or whose turn it is to do the night feed.
It's the relentlessness of childcare that grinds you down. Two or three nights away can recharge your batteries. You don't even have to get on a plane - a trip to a nice hotel down the road will do just as well.
Regardless of whether you go away alone or with your partner, when you get back from your break your children will be as happy to see you as you are to see them. Within hours of you being home, they will have forgotten that you were ever away, but the good thing is that you won't and the benefits of the break will be long lasting.