I felt guilty for going on a kid-free vacation. Then a stranger convinced me every parent deserves a break.

  • To celebrate my 40th birthday, my husband and I spent almost a week in Bermuda without our kids.

  • I felt guilty for leaving them with their grandparents and learned other moms feel similar guilt.

  • Then, a stranger reminded me that all parents deserve a break, and it only makes us better parents.

Last summer, my husband and I spent five days celebrating my 40th birthday in my favorite place: Bermuda. We relaxed on the sandy, white beach and floated on the crystal-clear water as long as our hearts desired. We did what we wanted, when we wanted, with no one altering our schedule but us. For just under a week, we left our children with their grandparents to celebrate my milestone birthday. It was what we needed, but it all began with guilt.

"Why can't we come?" my son asked daily during the month of July.

"Sometimes parents need to get away alone," I responded repeatedly. "It's not a punishment. When we get the rest we need, it allows us to be better parents." But beneath those words, my guilt expanded internally by the day.

I'm not the only mom who feels guilty about going on a child-free vacation

Wondering if I was the only mother feeling remorse for needing time away from her children, I did a quick search on Google. Article after article, I read from mothers expressing the judgment they'd received for vacationing without their kids. For every story persuading parents to take time away, there was another one highlighting the shame we experience for doing so. This controversy is what steers some parents away from a much-needed child-free escape.

Mothers are expected to put their children's needs first indefinitely. The day our first child is born, our lives should now revolve around them forever — that's the message we receive. We're told how to feed, when to return to work, and even how to discipline. We're criticized when we don't look the way society expects mothers to look and when we struggle through the peaks and valleys of motherhood. Society expects us to mother with perfection and as a result, we find ourselves in an impossible situation. We hesitate to care for ourselves because society may perceive it as poor parenting.

We feel our children's emotions on a personal level. When my younger son was injured at preschool, I felt nothing but panic as we raced to the emergency room — his pain became my own. When my older son sat onstage at his fifth-grade promotion, the words, "These children will do great things," filled me with pride — my happy tears originated from his accomplishments. Everything our children do feels like a reflection of us, and while sometimes that's a positive experience, it also places unreasonable pressure on our shoulders.

When my children began asking why they couldn't come on our vacation with us, I felt their disappointment in my gut. Their defeat became my own, and I let it sit there, festering for a month. Despite knowing we were doing what was right for us, which, in turn, would be good for them, I questioned my decision. I heard society whispering, "Why did you have children if you feel the need to leave them?"

A stranger's words gave me a different perspective

On the first day, I sat on the beach knowing they were cared for and enjoying a vacation of their own with their grandparents but still wondering if we'd made the right choice, if needing time away from them was reasonable. My children are part of me, and separating their emotions from my own feels impossible at times.

"Are you two on your honeymoon?" a woman asked as my husband and I lay on beach chairs. He was in full relaxation mode while I was agonizing over the choice to come in the first place. We both laughed at the thought of being mistaken for a young married couple, especially since I'd just entered my 40th year and my husband was already five years ahead.

Lindsay Karp and her husband wearing sunglasses while on vacation with the ocean and sunset in the background.
Lindsay Karp realized that she felt guilty for leaving her kids with their grandparents on vacation, but her husband was able to relax.Courtesy Lindsay Karp

"Well, just don't do what we did and wait to get away without your kids until they're young adults," she said. It was like her words were delivered to me when I needed them most.

We explained that we'd been married for over a decade and our two kids were currently across the ocean with their grandparents. Her wisdom both validated our choice and calmed my motherly anxiety — anxiety I now realize is shaped by society's unfair expectations of mothers. My husband had no guilt; I'd inhaled enough for both of us.

The concept of mothers craving a break from parenting and then missing their children the moment they're gone seems universal. When I'm not with them, I find myself wondering what they're doing, whether they're happy, and if they're feeling well. It leaves little space to enjoy the moment — to revel in the peace and quiet we need to return to mothering with love and patience. But after those words from another mom a few parenting steps ahead of me, I took a deep breath. I let myself be fully engulfed in the moment for the remainder of our vacation.

On the final day of our getaway, I reflected on the words that mother had offered so perfectly. I felt rested. I was whole. And I prepared to return to both the monotony and frenzy of motherhood. I was ready for the inevitable bickering and the unavoidable catering to their needs ahead of my own. That final morning, I realized five days of peace and quiet was exactly what I needed and there is no shame in that.

I used to let guilt seep into the crevices of the rare time away from my children. Until now. Because every parent deserves time away without shame. Especially moms.

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