The XX Factor

Why Retreats for Moms Are a Terrible Idea

A getaway from one’s kids should not focus on being a mom.

Thinkstock/ Daniel Chetroni

Feeling overwhelmed, moms? Mommy meditation, mommy juice, mommy exercise, and mommy makeovers no longer enough to release all that hot mom steam? Perhaps it’s time to upgrade your self-care game with a mom retreat, during which you can leave your life behind in order to spend a day, or days, thinking about motherhood.

A recent story in the Washington Post looks at the rising number of mom retreats, which include everything from online mini-retreats for the harried woman trying to have it all to all-inclusive weekend getaways for moms of children with neurological or developmental disorders. Some have a practical focus, others a spiritual one, and many are aimed at helping moms learn to relax. Please don’t go to one.

For starters, moms are already isolated enough. We live in an age in which motherhood has morphed from a biological fact to an all-consuming lifestyle which demands that women be all in, all the time. If moms need to decompress—and they probably do considering American parents are some of the unhappiest in the world—then it would behoove them do so in an environment in which they could leave their mom selves behind. Instead of talking to other moms about motherhood, they’d be better off trying to forget their kids existed for a short time. Ideally, this would involve hanging out with human beings who are not moms, or other mothers who are equally committed to taking a respite from thinking about their kids. Some temporary exposure to everything that exists outside the realm of motherhood will be more restorative than any lecture or journaling session at an organized retreat.

For the moms who are tapped out and desperate to complain about it? Unleash! But, please, don’t do it exclusively in the company of other moms. Tell your partner, tell your children’s school, tell a colleague, tell your government, tell that parenting magazine who recently published seven must-read tips on how to turn your child’s sandwich into a zoo animal, or anyone else who is making your life worse because they lack a basic awareness of the demands of contemporary parenthood. Another mom who is so burdened by motherhood that she is willing to pay money to try to unburden already gets it. Unloading on her won’t change a thing.

Overall, any relief found at a mom treat will only treat the symptom, but not the disease. Moms don’t need to “choose joy,” as a t-shirt sold by Happy Mama retreat instructs them. They need structural and cultural changes to take place to ensure that joy isn’t something they feel compelled to superficially choose, but a state-of-mind they can count on arriving at spontaneously once in awhile. Instead of choosing joy, we should be choosing universal, affordable child care, paid family leave, workplaces that don’t discriminate against pregnant women and mothers, and men who value care work and do their fair share. We could even go so far as to ensure that raising kids no longer poses a financial risk for those who do it. In Germany, a MP recently proposed a free basic income for parents in order to ease economic pressure on families. I’d choose that.

To be fair, some of these mom retreats seem to offer useful advice on how to maintain sanity as a caregiver. As nice as that is, the fact that they limit this advice to moms only reinforces the idea that caregiving—labor that has long been invisible to and trivialized by non-moms—is still exclusively their burden to bear. Conversations about caregiving need to take place in the public sphere, where everyone will be forced to reckon with its significance and attendant responsibilities.