My summer vacation (from parenting)

Big Sur

I've always believed in the whole "absence makes the heart grow fonder" thing.

I miss my kids.

I’m happy. But I miss my kids.

This is always how I feel on vacation. I love getting away. I need to refresh, revitalize, re-engage with my husband. Life gets too tiring if you never take those well earned sabbaticals. But still, even knowing how important it is to take those breaks from mothering and just be a woman, a partner, a tourist, doesn’t make it any easier. Why is it that your kids seem exponentially cuter, sweeter, and more irresistible the minute you lose sight of them?

I’m a firm believer in absence making the heart grow fonder. Sometimes I think the whole purpose of going away is to get that rush of coming home feelings. My husband and I try to take adult only vacations every year or two. But most of the married couples I know have never taken a trip sans children. Truth be told, they don’t have relationships I envy. My parents travelled annually without my sister and me throughout my childhood. They left me with sitters, grandparents, or teachers who were happy to moonlight for a few extra bucks. It never dawned on them to give up their romantic getaways because they were parents. If anything, being parents made them realize how badly they needed time away to reconnect and remember why they’d come together in the first place.

My mom once told me without a modicum of regret that she put her husband first, even ahead of her two daughters. I think this was a fairly common sentiment amidst our parents’ generation. It went along with the whole “children should be seen and not heard” credo. But to put your adult desires ahead of your children’s perceived emotional requisites in today’s world is to commit the unthinkable. Only selfish, unfeeling parents would abandon their little ones for a week or two of adult adventure.

But allow me to challenge those beliefs for a moment. To all of you who wouldn’t think of leaving the little ones for a little grown-up R & R, ask yourselves this: If you took a few days to focus on you, to rebuild your partnership with your spouse, to reinvent yourselves as a couple, wouldn’t that be of value to your children? Isn’t part of our job as parents to model a healthy, loving adult relationship for our kids?

So take a day, a week, maybe even two (if you’ve got willing in-laws). But get away from being a parent for a while. You’ll be astounded by who you are when you return.

Thank God summer vacation is finally over!

Look closely. Don't those kids look like they're just lovin' vacation?

Look closely. Don't those kids look like they're just lovin' vacation?

Vacationing with kids is not vacationing. It’s parenting in another location without all of your resources.

I want to tattoo that sentence on my forehead so that I, and every parent I meet along the way, will remember that taking a family trip is different from taking a vacation.

I sometimes think that once you become a parent there’s this unwritten rule forbidding you from ever having a truly restful respite until maybe your kids reach college age. The funniest part about all of this is that while we’ve all been members of a family since our inception, none of us had any inkling about how exhausting and stressful family travel actually was until we became parents ourselves.

Think about it. Didn’t you used to treasure family vacations? Did you ever once think that your parents didn’t look forward to those times as much as you did? Hah! Now you know the truth!

Vacation parenting is harder than home parenting. You have no help, first of all. Your regular cadre of baby sitters isn’t available. Your friends aren’t there so you have no one to share those endless hours at the park with. Your kids don’t eat right. They don’t sleep well. They don’t have their favorite toys, books or best buds. Then, if you filter in the expectation piece of the whole thing; this idealistic belief that these are supposed to be the best times in your life, you end up with a perfect recipe for disaster and disappointment.

Now I’m not saying there aren’t great moments that occur during vacations. All I’m saying is that we strive for this unrealistic ideal and then spend an equal amount of time and energy berating ourselves for failing to achieve it. So I’ve compiled a list of 10 guilt free family vacation rules that should help all of us as we start planning for Christmas break:

1. You’re allowed to yell at your kids on vacation and that doesn’t make you a monster.
2. You have the right to put your children to bed at a reasonable hour.
3. You will not scar your children by refusing to buy them ridiculous tourist paraphernalia that you know damn well will never be looked at again after this trip.
4. You are not a bad parent if the thought of one of your children being abducted for a few hours hasn’t momentarily crossed your mind as one way of offering a much needed parenting break. (Of course they always get returned happy and unharmed, even in your most disturbing fantasies.)
5. You are strongly encouraged to say “no” at least three times a day.
6.There is no dessert for breakfast, no matter how convincing your child may be.
7. Baby sitters exist in every city. Get a recommendation from family or friends of a friend and then give yourself a few hours off.
8. Portable DVD players are a good thing. Plant your kids in front of one for an hour and take a nap.
9. Theme parks are for young people. Rent one or bring one with you so that you don’t have to act like you enjoy those horrible, nausea-inducing rides that make your kids giggle oh so gleefully.
10. Hotels and resorts provide kid’s clubs and activities for a reason. Use them!

I guarantee that if you follow my vacation guidelines, you will feel better about yourself as a parent, you will appreciate and enjoy your little ones and all of their mercurial wonder and whimsy, and, most importantly, you may even end up having a good time yourself.