Elizabeth Haynes recites the details with all the longing and specificity of a woman describing a forbidden fantasy:
First, says the 33-year-old mom from Colorado, she checks into a hotel and heads straight to the spa, where she relaxes in the sauna before a massage. Later, she orders a pizza to her room and eats in bed while binge-watching Netflix, then takes a long bath with a glass of wine perched on the rim of the soaking tub.
She's asleep by 8:30 p.m., and (this is the best part, she says) she doesn't wake up for 12 hours, an indulgence that would be impossible at home with her husband and 2-year-old son.
This is the cherished routine she enjoys twice a year, on her birthday and Mother's Day.
"I can't even tell you," Haynes said, a few days before her birthday, "I've been looking forward to this momcation for weeks."
The momcation, for the uninitiated, is a temporary escape from the demands of modern motherhood.
In concept, it is something any mother deserves. Married working moms spend five more hours per week on child care than married working dads, according to the Pew Research Center. Mothers most often are the ones tasked with the behind-the-scenes labor of managing a family: everything from scheduling pediatrician appointments to keeping track of a growing kid's pants size.
Who could argue against the need for relief?
But the practice also raises questions — about who can afford a momcation and why this escape feels so urgently necessary in the first place. What does it mean when an act of self-preservation is branded as something that only moms need and only certain moms get to experience?
Mothers face real problems. Is a momcation a solution, or just another symptom?
Social media's role
There wasn't always a special designation for it beyond "girls' weekend" or simply "please leave me alone for an hour." But in a society driven by social media, there are listicles suggesting destinations for your next momcation or citing the telltale signs that you need one; there are Facebook groups and hashtagged posts on Instagram with moms posed happily in bathing suits on scenic beaches.
There is no hard and fast rule about what constitutes a momcation. It might be an afternoon at a spa, an overnight at your sister's place or a weeklong escape at a resort. But no matter the place or price tag, the momcation is always presented as a necessary act of self-care, a way to reclaim a sense of autonomy, a correction — however fleeting — of an underlying imbalance.
Haynes, a stay-at-home mom, said she's grateful for the popularity of the word momcation because it's a validation: This is an actual thing, other moms are doing it and it's OK for you to do it, too.
"There is so much guilt and pressure that comes with being a mom," she said. "I needed my family and my friends to tell me it was OK to leave for 24 hours and to go focus on myself. So I think the semantics of 'momcation' are actually kind of helpful, because I think there are a lot of women who need that same permission to step away, because you know somebody is going to judge you for doing it regardless."
Ingrid Chen McCarthy, 39, agrees that having a dedicated term for this phenomenon might help some women feel empowered to ask for the break they need. She used the word to describe her first getaway after her second child was born, when she struggled with postpartum anxiety and her husband and her mom gave her the gift of two nights at a resort hotel near their home in North Carolina.
"I think it's something more women should be able to do," she said. "But I also totally recognize that it's a place of privilege for me to be able to do it, on multiple levels."
Ignoring the causes
The momcation trend is good only if it leads to an examination of the reasons these women so desperately need a reprieve in the first place, said Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis and author of "Making Motherhood Work: How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving." If not, it's helping cover up the underlying issues.
"I worry it obscures the problem," she said. "Highlighting self-care for women is a wonderful thing. But calling it a momcation suggests that it's an exception rather than the rule. So for 362 days a year you give your all, and three days a year you focus on yourself? That's insufficient to me."
She added, "You would never see 'dadcation' trending" on social media. A golf trip is just a golf trip.
In the absence of societal support, the stress of motherhood is more readily commodified. The momcation trend hasn't gone unnoticed by travel agencies, hotels and spas, which might suggest a market responding to the demands of consumers — or maybe just capitalism masquerading as empowerment.
"The idea that you can turn to the market to provide these solutions, by purchasing services or taking trips — that benefits companies more than women," Collins said.
It also means some mothers are left out.
"Low-income moms and single moms are least likely to have access to paid vacation days, and they don't necessarily have other folks to rely on to take over when they do need a break," Collins said. "All moms deserve a break from the day-to-day grind."
Melissa Holland Mansika, 49, a mom to a 6-year-old boy in Colorado who relishes her trips away from her family, said she loathes the idea that companies "see us as stressed-out, unhappy consumers and use this pain as a means to sell us something. The message is that this exotic locale for a momcation or this new bottle of rosé is just what we deserve and will help us with our stress, poor us."
While these women are away, removed from the demands of daily life, they describe feeling restored, refreshed and rebalanced. But "two hours after I get home, it's like it never happened," Mansika said.
"A momcation is a Band-Aid," McCarthy agreed.
But that doesn't mean that she's given up on the concept.
"This is a systemic problem that needs to be fixed," McCarthy said. "But in the meantime, I will gladly take a momcation whenever I get a chance."