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work-life balance

Work Gave Me a Sabbatical and It Was the Best Thing Ever

sabbatical

I’ve always felt time is a precious commodity, but that sentiment has been amplified times a thousand as a working parent with young kids. Between the day-to-day chaos of raising little people and managing a career, a household, a marriage, a social life, and physical fitness, it can feel like a rat race with no end in sight.

But this summer, there was an “end,” albeit a temporary one. I was given the gift of time — a month off, to be precise — to devote to myself, my family, and my writing, thanks to a generous sabbatical program my company offers to employees after 10 years of service.

As I geared up for my month off, it hit me that since the age of 12, I’ve never not worked.  First was babysitting. In high school, I spent weekends toiling at a deli, working the cash register at a ski resort, and serving ice cream at a water park. In college, I had a work-study position in the mail room (which was surprisingly fun) and several internships.

Summers in college were spent waiting tables and working at a camp. After grad school, I took a year off to teach English in El Salvador (where my then-boyfriend, now-husband was living) before returning to Washington, D.C. to officially begin my public relations career.

Since then, I’ve never had a break. Aside from maternity leaves — which I think we can all agree are not  “vacations” in any way, shape, or form — I have never had more than two consecutive weeks off, not even when I was moving between jobs or out of state. That startled me.

Other than spending time with my family, I had a couple of other goals in mind for my time off:

I wanted to carve out more time to write, and I wanted to spend some time finding myself again — the me I knew before marriage and kids.

Instead of keeping my kids home with me every day as I initially thought I would, I ended up sending them to summer camp for the first two weeks and picking them up early each day for surprise trips to the library, the children’s museum, the park, or the ice cream shop.

Sending them to camp was the best decision I could have made. They got time with their friends at summer camp and stayed busy with tons of activities, and I got to accomplish errands I typically squeeze in over lunch or after work, as well as the things I wanted to do (read more, write more, work out more). By the time we were back together in the early afternoon, I didn’t have the normal burdens of maintaining our household constraining us.

That’s because I used the time they were at camp to get.shit.done: volunteer, clean the house, go running, take long walks with our dog, sit in a cafe and write, read, organize and pack up clothes/toys to give away, meet my husband or friends for lunch, grocery shop, prep meals, visit the doctor, and get my hair done — all without the constraints of meeting anyone else’s needs. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was exactly what I needed. For those two weeks, I had much-needed “me time” and got a taste of freedom from everything.

It was liberating — and if I’m being completely honest,  it was a little terrifying how much I enjoyed it all. As I approached the end of my month off, I wondered, Did I really have to go back to reality? “Sabbatical Melissa” was way more fun to be around than “stressed-out-working-mom-with-small-kids Melissa.”

Unfortunately, all good things must end. To finish my time off on a high note, I spent the last two weeks traveling. First, my husband and I spent a kid-free weekend in Chicago. Then the kids and I flew to visit my family in New Jersey, hitting up some of my favorite summer spots from when I was little.

Back home in Michigan, we took the kids to northern part of the state for a long weekend, where we visited the Sleeping Bear Dunes, canoed and biked, hit up a bunch of cute lakeside towns, taught the kids how to swing golf clubs, and lounged at our resort’s pool.

Because I didn’t exactly rest for my sabbatical, I didn’t go back to work in August feeling as refreshed as you might think. Still, the precious gift of time and the shake-up of my routine was priceless.

I know not every company can realistically replicate a sabbatical program like ours — these programs cost money and take time and energy to implement. I also know that I will probably never have another sabbatical in my career; ours is a one-time deal. But I’m forever grateful for the “me” time and the bonus family time this sabbatical afforded me.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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