Should We Be Taking (more) Kid-Free Vacations?

Leaving kids at home in the care of someone else can bring up LOTS of different feelings. Judgment, guilt and anxiety come to mind first. My question is this: Should we, as parents, feel free to take travel opportunities, visit friends, have a break, etc., or should we own our choice to have children and wait for our kids to be older before we jet-set around the world? If you know me, you likely know that my husband and I take kid-free vacations in addition to trips as a family, and I support others doing so as well. It’s a privilege we have been afforded and it works for us, but I am willing and eager to discuss the reasons and implications of this phenomenon from both sides. Millennial Over-analyzation strikes again, but here we are.

Once you’re a parent, it’s no longer as simple as wanting to go somewhere and going. There are extra financial considerations. There is finding someone you can trust to watch your children, with a bonus added if they fully respect your boundaries and methods of parenting. There are emotional considerations. Do you as a parent experience anxiety or extreme guilt? Will you be able to relax enough to actually have fun while you’re gone? Do any of your children have trouble separating from you? How will that play out?
Are you going somewhere that will afford opportunities to call/communicate with the kids? Is it a good idea to talk to them, or will it contribute to being upset that you’re gone (for either party)?
How long is a reasonable amount to be away? Is it worth it? Would you rather just wait? Do you really NEED to get away? There is a lot to consider. And even if you make a decision and have all those things figured out, there are still the travel/school/activities/vehicle logistics to consider. For some, it could be enough to say “forget it” and watch Searching for Italy instead.

Thinking about this quickly turned into a deep-dive of why parents take trips without their kids in the first place. And, in turn, it becomes an introspection about personal needs and how we go about meeting them. Some parents truly do not feel the need to take a break from their kids, and don’t like the idea of taking vacations without them. Other parents feel that they either need the break or they know it’s good for their mental health to have one. People from both camps get invited to weddings or kid-free events, and have to decide if they can or want to make it work.  A big decision factor I’ve found involves the optics. No one wants to feel like a “bad” parent, but the idea of leaving kids behind so you can go have fun doesn’t necessarily scream Mother of the Year. I can see why many parents feel conflicted. But do outside perceptions carry enough weight to sway our decisions?

Plenty of parents disregard their personal needs out of necessity, or at least put them on the back burner to prioritize their children. Parenting is hard, especially if you’re doing it well. I have to believe, though, that whole, fulfilled, content people meet the needs of their families more readily (among just functioning better in the world overall). So how do we reconcile our needs with those of our kids? Sadly, I don’t have the answer to that, but I do think it is worth it to try to find a balance and satisfy everyone if possible.

For those who need to hear this: Wanting a break is okay. Needing some time to recharge is okay. Of course, this is my opinion. But truthfully, what other job besides parenting exists where breaks aren’t expected? In any job, you simply cannot avoid burnout if you aren’t given some way to recharge.

In exploring this issue, I realized even more about myself and what makes ME feel whole, fulfilled and content. I am someone who benefits from time alone. I am very extroverted, but I think it was the pandemic that made me realize how much I valued time to myself. Even brief moments like a short walk or driving in silence can make a difference for me. I recognize also that I am deeply impacted by the energy of the people and the environment around me. Getting a change of scenery can provide me with a massive recharge that leaves me refreshed and ready to return home with a better mindset and appreciation for the life I have. People who make me feel creative, useful and fully accepted can also contribute significantly to these positive outcomes.

I realize that what I am saying is attached to privilege. For full transparency, on the trips we have taken, my mom has taken all 3 of my kids and cared for them at our place. This includes school and daycare drop offs, extracurriculars, meals, bath and bedtimes. If we are gone over a weekend, my siblings have consistently jumped in to help my mom. Other family members have also offered to help. My in-laws are watching the kids so we can go to an upcoming wedding as well. We have a village, which I realize is a coveted and sometimes rare thing to have these days. Because we have this help available, we have been able to take opportunities for travel that we otherwise would have had to decline. Weddings, anniversary trips, and birthday trips have been the most common.

What I have found is that it is easy to judge others (especially parents) for the decisions they make that are different from what we would do. I get it, and sometimes I have to catch myself as well. I would encourage anyone who feels resentment or judgment towards others who make different choices to examine where those feelings originate. Is it our own anxiety about relinquishing control over our household that fuels our decision to stay put? Is our fear of something bad happening while we are gone holding us back, and is that worth missing out? Do the “I could never…” comments imply that other parents must not love their kids enough if they make certain choices?

This is a long way of saying that I sometimes feel conflicted about our choices, but I think it’s only because I worry about outside perceptions of our parenting- not because I actually think we are worse parents for taking trips. I am sensitive to being perceived as selfish for leaving my kids, even for a weekend. Is that because I feel like, deep down, I don’t deserve breaks? Is it rude to expect others to help with the parental responsibilities that we chose? Is there any reason to believe that our kids are worse off for the trips we’ve taken? Should everyone inherently want to be with their children every day of their childhood? After all, it does go by fast. Sure the years are short- but the days can be long, especially with little ones. And to reiterate, parenting is hard. It’s easy to lose oneself in the process, and I don’t want that. Not for myself, nor for my children when they become parents. I wish we could normalize that being attuned to our own needs in the short term will mean our mental health will be better in the long-term, thus benefiting the whole family. Parents are taught they have to be selfless, and self-sacrificing, but my question is why does anyone have to sacrifice living fully?

The truth is, we are all different, and we have different needs. A goal of mine with the postpartum education I do is to recognize and celebrate our individuality, so we can accept and request things without shame or guilt, and so we can have compassion for others and their desires.

Most parents have a goal of raising children to be kind and adaptable, with high self-worth and sense of purpose… right?! How on earth can we do that- create “good” humans- if we are constantly stressed, lacking and not receiving what WE need to be the best versions of ourselves?

What feels true and real is that knowing my needs and working within my means to have those needs met is what makes me a great parent and role model for the kids that live in my house. It doesn’t mean I know what works for other parents and other kids. But MINE? They’re seeing parents who trust them to be a little more independent for a few days at a time while we are away. They’re getting more quality time with other trusted adults in their lives and learning how to manage different discipline styles. They’re seeing parents enjoying their lives, enjoying each other and showing devotion to lifelong friends. Being away from them can be hard, for sure! But the reunions are SO sweet and so good.

All those perceived benefits do NOT imply that parents who don’t travel kid-free aren’t also teaching their kids these lessons or that their kids are missing out on something. PLEASE FTLOG I’m not passing judgment here. The fact that the judgment often goes the other direction is not lost on me. I’m just offering a perspective to relieve some guilt that I personally have felt traveling in the hopes that it makes another parent feel better about it too. We are all just doing our best. For some (including myself), that means getting to take advantage of opportunities for travel and time with friends- things I am grateful to not have to put on hold while we have small children. My relationships with other adults mean so much to me, and cultivating them makes it more likely that I’ll keep those relationships for life. I want that for myself, and I want to set that example.

I have the utmost respect for people who are self-aware enough to recognize their needs, communicate them and take action towards those ends. Truly- is there a better example that we can set for our kids than that?

I have presented far more questions than answers here. Oops. That was not my original intention, but I do believe these reflections are important, and I think the reason why there isn’t a clear answer is because of the uniqueness of each of us as humans and parents. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and I hope this conversation can bring more understanding and compassion among fellow parents and caregivers.

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