With fear and joy surrounding me, I announced my plans to lead a world first expedition to kayak the length of the Essequibo River; an expedition that I thought would take two months, but ended up taking nearly three.
My heart pounded as my social media post went live. My son was six months old. He’d be just over eight months when I planned to leave him with his fully capable father. The comments and reactions started to appear, and I was too nervous to read them. Would they say ‘You’re an awful mother!’ or ‘How could you be so heartless?’ or would they be positive and say ‘You’re an inspirational woman for having children and still following your dreams.’
Once they loaded, I began to focus on the screen in front of me.
“You’re an amazing woman, that is at the forefront of bridging the gap of parenting equality.”
I released the breath that had been burdening my lungs for the best part of a minute. To my surprise, not one comment was negative! I turned to my husband in disbelief; I wasn’t expecting such a positive response. With the belief and support of so many people I felt like I could really do this.
That particular comment, stating that I, alongside Ed, was at the forefront of parenting equality, really excited me! I hadn’t realised it before. I kept thinking I was being pushy in stating that my dreams were just as important as my husbands. After all, centuries of sexism had stated that the woman must give up all and every dream once she gives birth, and the man is allowed to be and act just as he did before the child came into this world.
I felt slightly guilty that I wasn’t just going to give up on my dreams. I must confess though, I am extremely lucky in the fact that my husband is incredibly supportive, and more than happy to take on the Daddy role full time/part time/ 1am time. Its hard however, to push aside that ‘I should’ feeling and replace it with the ‘I deserve’ feeling, and true, it’s a bit harder juggling two diaries to always make sure our son always has a primary caregiver there. But it’s worth it because both of his parents are 100% fulfilled in their lives, and surely a fulfilled parent is better than an ‘I should stay at home’ parent?
I also hear many of you say, ‘I’m a single parent, so there isn’t a father there to give me the freedom.’ I know several people that are single parents that take their child with them on every adventure. One took their son to India so they could do a three month course, and he had the most enriching time in the mountains, going to school and eating Indian food. So I truly believe that the only limitations are the limitations we put on ourselves.
Now back to the expedition! Seven weeks in, there was a day that confused me and really made me think about how detrimental me being away from my son might be.
As you can guess, paddling for 8+ hours a day can give your brain plenty of time to think, and after seven weeks of thinking, the brain can get quite bored and annoying. I remember paddling along like normal, one stroke, two stoke, and then thinking ‘I have to get to Ran, I have to be with him.’ And then that thought spiraled! Within ten minutes I was sobbing inconsolably, with a pain in my stomach. I was so sure Ran had been in an accident, that something awful had happened to him. I felt sure it was my mother’s intuition. Needless to say I was in an utter state.
As my mind was reeling, I thought SATPHONE!! So I whipped it out as quick as possible, and dialed my home number.
Ed answered the phone to hear my distressed voice.
“Ran’s been in an accident! Tell me he’s ok! What’s happened to him?!” I was in a panicked state, gasping for breathe, urging the world the tell me the opposite of what I already knew, that something was wrong.
The response I received will forever stick with me as a large life lesson.
“Laura, calm down,” said Ed. “He’s sat right in front of me, smiling and eating supper. He’s more than ok, he’s happy.” Ed went on to tell me how our boy was unbelievably cheerful, constantly smiling, exploring shelves and dog bowls independently and securely around the house.
I breathed a sigh of relief. I was wrong. Thank god I was wrong, but why was I wrong? I thought a mother’s intuition was always right. I was confused for a while, but I realised just how powerful, and sometimes dangerous, the mind can be. I had created that whole drama in my head. From then, till now, I am still slightly scared of what one’s brain can do and how it can unnecessarily amplify a perfectly normal situation.
When I arrived home, as when I first announced my plan, I was terrified about the backlash of people criticising my patenting style, questioning who I was as a mother. But once again, as before, I was unbelievably shocked at the positivity I received. I think people are ready to share the responsibility of being a parent for the all rounded fulfillment of both parents. It’s beautiful.
I think now my son is older and more understanding of the world around him, and for my sake, I wouldn’t want to leave him for more than four to six weeks. My husband and I have always agreed that we will constantly assess his wellbeing, our family’s wellbeing, and if at any point we think its having a negative impact, we will change our lifestyle. Until then however, we are making a happy home, a happy family and having careers. So, to conclude, I believe that with forward thinking parent(s), along with constant assessment, yes, a mother is perfectly ok to leave her child for short infrequent periods to achieve her dreams.