I love my kids, but I admit it - I'm happier on my own!


Last week I went to stay with one of my closest girlfriends for a few days. Completely on my own. No husband. No children.

Despite misgivings about leaving my brood of three boys and a girl, I had been persuaded by my husband to go. After all, he argued, it would do me good to have a break.

But on the morning in question, it was hard to say goodbye. All the children had long faces. I had a long face as the reality of being away from them hit me. We all hugged and kissed and I grilled my husband yet again about the daily 'What The Children Do' rota just to make sure he really did comprehend what he had to do. Then, I drove off.

Being mum: Lucy Cavendish with her children Lenny, seven, Sparkle, two, and Jerry, five

Being mum: Lucy Cavendish with her children Lenny, seven, Sparkle, two, and Jerry, five

For the first few minutes I felt sad. Through the rear-view mirror I saw my little girl burst into tears. I felt dreadful.

But, by the time I had rounded the second bend of the road, I felt different. I suddenly had a rush of excitement as I realised I was on my own in the car.

There was no one fighting in the back. No one was insisting I play the Michael Jackson album I am now feeling allergic to, rather than the Corinne Bailey Rae one I want to listen to.

So I put my CD on - yes my CD - and turned the car stereo up as loud as possible. And I smiled. I was, in short, free. 

By the time I got to my friend's house I was virtually whooping with joy. 'I've got no children with me!' I yelled at her, and she did what appeared to be a dance of happiness, and then we spent the entire weekend walking far (I haven't walked far in years - small children can't do 'far') and fast (small children can't manage 'fast' either), talking all the time.

We ate out at a restaurant - a revelation! We drank wine. I got slightly drunk. We did, in short, all the things I haven't done in years, and it felt fantastic.

When people ask me what makes me happy, I always reply: 'My four children.' I love the way they smile. I love the way they play, mess about and ask me silly questions.

Their innocence and quirky way of looking at life thrills me. I spend hours with them every day, thinking of them, talking about them, being with them.

'While most mothers find that being a parent gives them a cradle of contentment, it does not necessarily lead to bursts of intense joy'

But on the way home from my mini-break, the truth came to me. It's not being with my children that makes me happy. It's being away from my children that makes me happy.

In the car, I composed a list in my head of times when I feel truly, if momentarily, happy. It was a revelation. My children didn't feature at all.

I came to the conclusion that most of all I love the early mornings when I get up before my children and walk alone with my dog as the sun comes up.

I like going to my yoga class - on my own. I like to go out for drinks or dinner with friends. I love travelling, but preferably not with four small, truculent people to entertain.

I like to do crosswords, uninterrupted. I like to go to London and, maybe, get to the theatre or to see an art exhibition.

I like these things precisely because they don't feature my children. So I am not at all surprised that a new book - Bluebird: Women And The New Psychology of Happiness by American writer Ariel Gore - has revealed precisely this fact about most mothers.

When she asked most mothers what made them happy, their autopilot response was: 'My children.'

This is a universal statement. We do all believe that, after we have had children, it is they who bring us joy.

Lucy Cavendish

Guilt: All of Lucy's moments of genuine bliss revolve around freedom from being a mother

Yet when Gore asked mothers to keep journals, recording moments of genuine bliss, those were mostly when they were apart from their children - having a drink with girlfriends, a game of tennis, watching a DVD alone with a glass of wine. In short, anything that didn't involve mothering.

I know I may be lambasted for saying it, but it's true. I realised all my happy moments revolved around freedom from being a mummy - freedom from the endless rounds of sock-finding, washing, dressing, cooking, breaking up fights, getting the children to school, putting them to bed etc etc.

Gore, who is the author of several parenting books, believes the things that make us happy are the things we don't get enough of, and that while most mothers find that being a parent gives them a cradle of contentment, it does not necessarily lead to bursts of intense joy.

Last year, I went away on a riding holiday with some friends for a week - a whole week - across the Wadi Rum in Jordan. It was a tough decision whether to go or not because one of my friends was bringing her (older) children, all of whom could ride.

I was very worried that having her children there and not mine would make me feel guilty. As we waited to board the plane, I was watching her children kidding around and my heart lurched. Why had I thought it would be a good idea to spend a week away from mine?

It had taken me so long to organise going away I had almost given up the ghost. I'd had to organise a rota of people to look after the children - grandmothers, friends and my husband.

I'd had to write out copious lists, plan grocery orders and every other conceivable thing I could do. I was, therefore, exhausted when I took my seat on the flight but then, after a few days of being away and riding through some magnificent scenery, a certain euphoria set in.

It was magical to be by myself. I didn't have to think of anyone but myself. I read books by torchlight under the cover of my tent. I dozed under shady rocks after lunch. I even had time to bond with my friend's children because I wasn't having to worry about my own.

In fact, I had such a blissful time that it was a terrible shock to go home. I came in through the door and the mayhem and chaos started almost instantaneously.

The calm I had felt on holiday dissipated in a matter of minutes, which I found rather depressing.

In order to find some level of general happiness, we need to engage with people with whom we can talk on our own level and, to be honest, this is not the same as endlessly chatting to small people about what Postman Pat did next.

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This doesn't mean to say I don't love my children. Of course, I love them. It's the endless minutiae of looking after them that pales somewhat.

Yet many women seem frightened to admit this in case it makes them sound like a bad mother. They find it hard to admit that, as much as they love their children, they aren't always the people who make them happiest.

They worry that if they say it is other people, or other things, that make them happy, they are somehow letting their children down. It is a great unspoken truth that sometimes we all need to get away and rediscover who we are.

The level of adoration from the child to the mother can make a woman feel utterly wanted.

As a mother, you bask in that warm glow of maternal love for your children, which is radiated back a hundred times over.

Yet the practical elements of looking after children can be nightmarish. Your mind races, you have no time for your own thoughts. In many ways, you cease to be you.

When I drove down that road, away from my children, I took an important step. I began to see that I was responsible for my own happiness and that sometimes, I need to be free and on my own in order to feel truly happy, and that there is nothing wrong with that.

I have vowed now to try to go out more, see friends more often, make attempts to get away if not for the day then for an evening.

Children need happy mothers, and if that means getting away from them occasionally to have some fun, then so be it.

 


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