TikToK Mom Leaves Job and Takes a 'Mid-Life Gap Year'—How You Can Too

Why mid-life gap years should be a more common occurrence for parents—and how you can do it without quitting your job.

Woman relaxing and reading a book

Jimena Roquero / Stocksy

When you typically hear the term "gap year," you probably think of a high school graduate taking some time off before heading off to college, trade school, or starting a career. Some choose to use this time to learn new skills, travel, or volunteer. But what if a parent decides to take a "gap year"—because couldn't we all use a break?

In a recent TikTok, user Kym Wootton shared that she decided to take a "mid-life gap year" after recently quitting her job. In the video, she said that, essentially, she was hoping to "take some of the rush out of [her] life" by getting back to doing things she enjoys, like exercising, writing, and spending more time with her family.

At first glance, this sounds like a pipe dream reserved for only the wealthy. In a world with ever-rising costs of living mixed with unmoving wages, it feels almost impossible. Wootton herself admits she's "very fortunate" to be able to even consider such a possibility. She also mentions children. Where are the children? Better yet, who are these children that they'd actually leave their mother alone to write or exercise without asking her where things are every five minutes?

The idea of a midlife gap year also leads to a lot of speculation. About three days after Wootton's first TikTok, she returned to correct an article written about her in The Mirror (a tabloid based in the United Kingdom), wherein a writer described her gap year as the time she'd set up to "go on a U.S. road trip, write a novel, and attend boozy weekends away." Not only does Wootton deny ever saying such things, but she seemed flabbergasted at the level of liberty taken with her story, exclaiming at one point: "I don't even drink!"

This brings us to a much larger problem, I think, than Wootton's gap year: The idea a mother can't celebrate or rediscover herself without sacrificing her role in her family. Despite the fact Wootton had said herself in her very first video that she was excited to spend more time with her family, it was much easier for everyone to believe an article saying the opposite, because the idea of someone choosing to be a whole person and a parent is, sadly, still unheard of.

"Most people wait until kids are grown to so [sic] this. Don't have kids or a family if you need to get away and travel," writes one commenter. "I can see a weekend but damn."

Do you hear that? Don't get away or travel for longer than two days if you have a family. There could never be a reason for this, ever in your life. In fact, please remember that your life ends when your child's life begins; give up on all your dreams. Parenthood is here.

I am, of course, being sarcastic. But this attitude needs to stop.

When it comes to Wootton's idea, I can't see why more people don't "take a gap year" in general. Absolutely none of what she aims to do—"slow down...do a mix of things every day...exercise, write...spend more time with my family"—requires that one quit their job to do it. It's not easy to find the energy and the time to do it all, certainly, but you don't have to do it all every day. All your gap year would require is that you make an intentional effort to do things that make you happy whenever you can. The only difference between a working parent making time for these things and Wootton doing them is that she now has a few more open hours available.

We can all still do this though, regardless of our employment statuses. We start by committing to making any year that gap year, that year of discovery and time with our loved ones, and then we figure out how to fit that into the time we have. A few ways we can do this:

  • Starting a family game night
  • Clearing out a night for a class in something we're interested in
  • Finding time on our calendar for exercise, even if it's only once or twice a week
  • Giving ourselves permission to "do it tomorrow" sometimes, if it means we get to take time to do something that really brings us joy

And sure, your job will take up time you have available for this, but it doesn't mean that you can't do it; it just means you have to be very specific about when you do it.

All this to say that, conceptually, Wootton's on the right track. She's making time to acknowledge the important parts of her life her job had probably started to overshadow, and in doing so, she's improving her chances of feeling more complete and self-actualized should she decide to re-enter the workforce. It's a concept we don't have to follow to the letter to benefit from. If anything, it reminds us that life does not end with parenthood and it's okay to remind ourselves of that whenever we so choose.

Be that for a year, or beyond.

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