Once you have children, kid-centered family vacations start to replace those spontaneous weekend getaways and romantic tropical vacations you used to take with your spouse. Sure, making memories with the kids at Disney World is wonderful, but every once in a while, mama needs a quiet beach, a steamy novel and a cold Mai Tai!
“I wholeheartedly believe parents should take vacations without kids because the parenting connection is the whole reason the kids came to be,” says Eirene Heidelberger, a Chicago-based parenting coach. “Parenting is a really hard gig and beyond monotonous, and parents need to take a break from their daily lives to reset and remember why they wanted a family in the first place.”
Getting out of town without tiny travelers in tow can help stressed-out parents maintain their identity as individuals — not just as mom and dad. Heidelberger says that time away is good for parents, as well as for children.
“I promise if you’re able to take a vacation away from your little ones, you’ll return a happier, more engaged person and parent and your kids will feed off of your energy,” she says.
The non-stop demands of parenting can certainly put a strain on a marriage — and a grown-ups-only vacation could go a long way toward keeping the spark alive. Project: Time Off, an organization working to change the way the U.S. workforce thinks about vacation, published a report entitled “The Work Martyr’s Affair: How America’s Lost Week Quietly Threatens Our Relationships.” The report revealed that one in three couples argue about the time spent at work versus quality time together. And, those disagreements aren’t just short spats; 36 percent last a day or more.
“Vacation time gives couples dedicated time for each other, and it’s that time that creates the conditions for a meaningful relationship to flourish,” says Katie Dennis, program manager for Project: Time Off. “It’s time to have the conversations that you don’t have the time for in the day-to-day rush. It’s time to remember what you are like without the pressures of work intruding.”
In spite of all of the evidence that points to childless vacations being good for marriages, taking that first trip away from your little ones can be bittersweet. Katie Bugbee of the popular online caregiver marketplace Care.com says that if you’re talking about a getaway alone with your spouse, that is the first sign you might be ready. However, if you’re very anxious about leaving young children behind, Bugbee recommends starting with some “baby steps.”
“If the idea is keeping you up at night, it’s probably that you aren’t ready, especially if there’s a lot of travel involved or if it’s several nights,” Bugbee says. “A more gradual approach is to start with just one night away.”
Once you wrap your own head around the idea of an adults-only vacation, next you have to prepare your little ones. Bugbee says to let your kids’ ages and temperaments dictate how much notice you give them, and how you talk about the pending separation.
“I actually don’t give [my kids] a lot of warning,” Bugbee says. “I mention it once, and then won’t bring it up until the week before we leave. I have a 5-year-old, and when she gets tired, she will bring things up that make her sad and go into a downward spiral.”
When you do take that first trip without the kids, there is bound to be some anxiety and tears (theirs and yours!). Try these pro tips to make the process easier for your little ones:
- Bugbee recommends returning from your trip on a Friday so you still have the weekend to spend with your children before you go back to work.
- Opt for a staycation. That way, you’re nearby if something goes wrong, but still get the luxury of an evening on the town and an uninterrupted night of sleep.
- Stock up on some small gifts and toys, and leave them with the sitter for the kids to open each morning as they count the “wake-ups” until you come home.
- Be strategic about when you check in at home. Bugbee says to avoid calls before bedtime, when overtired little ones are more likely to melt down.
- Text your sitter some video messages of you and your spouse that he or she can play for the kids when they are missing you.
- Emphasize the positive, such as how many movies they’ll watch at grandma’s house or the fun birthday party they have on the calendar, to keep kids’ spirits up before you leave, Bugbee says.
- Heidelberger says she’s not above bribery when it comes to minimizing vacation stress. “For my more sensitive child, I promise a small present if I hear good behavior reports from his grandpa while I’m away,” she says.
- Give kids something to look forward to by planning a special date with mom and dad when you return. Heidelberger says to decide together what you will do, and mark the date on the family calendar. “If your child gets weepy when you’re away, he can be reminded your special alone time together is soon,” Heidelberger says.
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