Cheryl Jarvis' book The Marriage Sabbatical: The Journey That Brings You Home advocates a simple premise: Wives and mothers who have sacrificed some personal goal for the sake of their marriage might consider leaving home for a solo journey to fulfill that dream and then, enriched, return to married life.
Predictably, when it was published there was a chorus of what-the-hell-are-you-talking-abouts? Critics reacted by asking how husbands would manage dinner with their wives gone. Wouldn't the men be tempted to cheat on their wives while they were off gallivanting? What kind of mother abandons her children, anyway?
"I wasn't really prepared for the amount of negative reaction that I got and the amount of disapproval and skepticism," says Jarvis, a journalism instructor at both Washington and Webster universities. "I've had everything from interviewers who've called it a dangerous idea to marital therapists who've called it a wonderful idea. I've heard from women who said they wished they could have read it 20 years ago."
Many of the critics are ignoring the heart of the matter: A sabbatical is not about a relationship between a wife and husband; it's about being a woman with passion and a dream deferred, like the 55 women Jarvis interviewed for the book. "If your big dream is to open a bakery, you can do that around the corner in your hometown," she says, "but if you're a backpacker and your big dream is to walk the Appalachian Trail, you're gonna have to leave home to do that.
"It's not a new idea. Amelia Earhart spent a month a year without her husband at Purdue University as a women's career counselor. Georgia O'Keefe for most of her married life spent summers painting in New Mexico while her husband stayed in Manhattan, and my favorite story is Harriet Beecher Stowe, who spent a year away from her husband and five children to get physically and emotionally restored at a Victorian water cure. What I find interesting is that after that year she began writing Uncle Tom's Cabin. These women are revered in our culture."