Recently, for the first time in a long time, my husband and I planned a rather extravagant evening out. It started with drinks at a cocktail lounge, followed by dinner at a nice restaurant, and then a concert by one of my favorite performers.
We were looking forward to this night for weeks—but every time it came up in conversation, I found myself feeling surprisingly awkward about it. When a good friend, for example, asked what we were doing that weekend, I told her our plans, and while her response was nothing short of enthusiastic, I felt the need to follow it up with, “Yeah, well it’s been a long time since we’ve done this, and it’s the artist who sings our wedding song, so, you know, we decided to splurge on a night out, because we’re not really sure when we’ll get another opportunity…” And so forth.
This happened on several occasions, and each time, I found myself getting more and more defensive, for lack of a better word, about what we were doing—even though no one we spoke to about it came close to responding negatively or making a snide comment (you know the kind, along the lines of “Oh, must be nice to be able to do that.”)
In fact, I’m not really sure why I felt the need to justify our decision to treat ourselves at all. It’s certainly not something I ever would’ve felt compelled to explain away before becoming a parent, so why was I suddenly feeling self-conscious about getting out of the house and unwinding for a night? Was I feeling guilty about leaving our kids for so many hours? For spending money on something the kids weren’t a part of?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized it was probably a little of both. Yes, we’d left the kids with a sitter before, but not for seven hours. Furthermore, we typically have our sitters come around 7:00 p.m., at which point the kids would’ve been fed, in pajamas, and mostly headed to bed. This time around, we had planned to leave by 5:00 p.m., which meant leaving them alone for a good stretch while they were actually awake. And while they were in very capable hands (my father’s), this change in routine unsettled me.
Then there’s the money thing. My husband and I both work hard, and we know we deserve to treat ourselves. We also have no problem spending money on things like amusement parks, museum outings, and other things we do as a family. But here we were, spending a chunk of money on something our kids couldn’t enjoy with us.
As I contemplated my guilt, however, I slowly started to realize something. No one else begrudges us a night out to enjoy ourselves, so why should I? Being a parent is hard enough, and while I can’t snap my fingers and make my mom guilt go away, I can be kinder to myself by, well, ignoring it.
That night, as my husband and I sat at a table sipping wine, our waiter asked if we were out for a special occasion. I was all about to start in with my “Oh, we never do this, but…” spiel, when I landed on an answer that I found far more fitting.
“Not really,” I replied. “But we’re happy to be here nonetheless.”