The mac n’ cheese will be done in six minutes. You have to leave the house in 12 if you are going to make it to both the soccer game and the recital. Your toddler just removed his diaper and your golden retriever is sniffing it enthusiastically. Soon enough, your spouse will be honking from the driveway and the evening’s chaos will commence. You have just enough time to microwave your daughter’s clarinet and put a new reed in her chicken nuggets—or something like that. It’s only Tuesday.
If you’re hyperventilating right now, then you might want to read this. It could be time for a vacation—a real vacation, without the kids. We all love our children, but let’s face it: Parenting is stressful. Half your day is spent preparing meals, wiping butts and doing laundry. Imagine letting someone else do these things for you for a change. Maybe not the butt wiping part, but you get the idea.
Research suggests that Americans don’t vacation enough, and parents are the worst offenders. There is no shortage of excuses to keep us grounded in our day-to-day lives. You can never find the time, the money, the babysitter or the rationale for lounging poolside for six straight days beneath a palm tree umbrella. Seriously, you need to rationalize that?
Some parents do struggle to see the benefits of stepping out of their mom and dad roles and into a Jimmy Buffett song. Just remember this: The success of a kid-free vacation will not be measured in shrimp eaten or margaritas sipped, but instead by the dream-like relaxation that will hit you in the middle of Day 2. The sun’s rays will mingle with a gentle breeze. The sounds of the ocean will serenade you as your pulse slows to a near-coma crawl. No one in a three-mile radius will be asking for a juice box.
I went at least a decade without taking a real vacation. Work and pets kept me busy enough. Then I had a child, and my time and money really began to disappear. It seemed reasonable to wait until my daughter was off to college before crossing any adventures off my bucket list. I’m wiser now.
For the past four years, my girlfriend and I have disappeared mid-winter for a lazy week in the Caribbean, land of coconuts and perpetual warmth. There are long walks on the beach and even longer spells reading books in lounge chairs. I return each February fully relaxed, ready to conquer the world. (By that, I mean I’m relatively certain that I can ride out the Syracuse winter without reenacting any scenes from The Shining.)
Maybe an island paradise isn’t for you. Perhaps you would prefer to stroll the Champs-Élysées in Paris, take a cruise to Alaska or go hiking along the Appalachian Trail. If you are having trouble committing to any such grand experience, start small. Schedule a couple’s weekend at a spa or an out-of-the-way bed and breakfast.
No matter where you go, the goal is to allow yourself time to reset and recharge, something that can be difficult to achieve in the 15 minutes you have to yourself each night after the last child falls asleep. Your marriage is sure to benefit, too, as the uninterrupted adult time is something you won’t find in Disney World. (That’s a different sort of vacation, filled with a chaotic schedule too similar to the one you are trying to escape.)
Still not convinced? Picture this: You’re on a cruise ship drinking something heavenly from a pineapple while being lulled to sleep by a reggae song. Now imagine the same scene, but every eight seconds, your child screams “Watch me jump in the pool!” See the difference?
The biggest obstacle for many parents is the guilt. It can be tough to justify such self-indulgence while applying Band-Aids or checking closets for monsters. You already feel bad enough sending your little ones to the sitter each day. Worse yet, you imagine the insinuating comments on Instagram photos of you and your spouse with your toes in the sand.
“You guys look so tan! But where are Ethan and Abby?”
Guilt is normal. No parent walks away from dropping off their children for a week with a completely clean conscience. You won’t leave a strip of rubber down the road as you shout “Holy Tiki Bar, we’re finally free!” In fact, if that happens, you might want to discuss it with your therapist. More likely, you will shed a tear or two and then, somewhere over the Atlantic, you will warm up to the idea of being alone for a while.
The break could also be good for your kids. They will get special time with their grandparents or a favorite aunt, plus the chance to learn that they can survive without you there every second. By mid-week, they’ll be the ones ending your FaceTime chats, off to resume their Uno game with Grandma.
And have no fear: Plenty of parenting lies ahead. There will be nosebleeds and geometry homework. The laundry hamper will still smell like a potpourri of gym class and old milk. Most importantly, the hugs will be warmed by your reunion.
See, I’m not trying to suggest that parenthood is a soul-sucking horror show. It comes with sweet moments woven into all the stress. But it can be unrelenting. As long as you are here in your life, life is not going to go away. So maybe you should.