Between now and August, my husband and I have three vacations marked on the calendar.
No, we won’t be cruising, trekking, or sightseeing. We won’t be sipping wine, twirling pasta on a fork, or tucking into leisurely, multi-course meals.
We won’t be on vacation at all. Our three married children and their spouses are the ones going away. My husband and I will take care of their children.
We will handle the happy chaos because time away–together–is essential to a healthy marriage. No matter how much you love your children and love being parents, you are also still a couple. That relationship has its own needs. The two of you need a release from the incessant demands of children, jobs, and home, so that you can focus on each other.
I am sure that taking time away while raising our four kids kept our love strong and our sanity intact.
Now, as grandparents, we are happy to provide the childcare that will enable our busy kids to take a break.
I realize that many young parents cannot turn to their own parents for this kind of help. And that is not the only obstacle. For some, tight finances make vacations feel out of reach. Other parents look at their kids’ jam-packed schedules and wonder how anyone else could juggle it. Then there’s the anxiety about leaving the kids at all. I get it.
I have an overactive imagination and the anxiety was always the hardest part for me. Below, based on my experiences as a mom and now a grandma, are suggestions for dealing with these common obstacles. They will not fit every family situation, nor are they meant to, but I hope they will jumpstart your plans for a few days of couple time.
1. Get creative with childcare options:
It’s wonderful if grandparents can step up, but not all can. We didn’t have grandparent help either, so we had to get creative.
For years we relied on a dear, retired couple that provided top-notch care for short vacations. We also used capable college girls for a few days now and then. Not sure you want to hire someone? Then how about trading off with a sibling or a friend? They give you a few days off and you agree to return the favor.
Rethink being away over the weekend. If your kids are in school or child care, it will be easier to enlist care for a weekday break. A person who would blanch at the thought of caring for your kids for an entire weekend (so many hours to fill!) may find weekdays quite manageable. Why not go away Monday morning and return on Thursday or Friday afternoon?
2. When it comes to time and cost, think short and nearby:
We did not go on many lengthy vacations when our kids were little. Most of the time we took long weekends, once or twice a year. That was enough to recharge our batteries as a couple. It also kept the costs down. Given the choice of going away once a year for a week or twice a year for a few days, I’d take two shorter breaks every time.
Skip the cost of flying and find somewhere to go a few hours drive from home. Keep an eye out for coupons, Groupons, and special off-season deals. You don’t need fancy. You need quiet, privacy, and uninterrupted time. And you know what else you need? To have fun, just the two of you.
3. Loosen up about the kids’ schedules:
Our kids all had activities, although now I have to think hard to recall them–and so do they. When we went away, I did make a long list of where each kid had to be and when. Then I told the sitter: “Take them to the activity if you need the break. If it’s too much effort, forget it.” I suggest you do the same.
4. Manage your nerves:
I was nervous, too. Mostly in anticipation of leaving. And it passed with amazing speed once we were actually out the door and enjoying our time together. Here is one trick worth sharing: we called home once a day to check on the kids, and I always made my husband do it. Talking to the sitter only increased my anxiety, as I listened for trouble in her tone of voice.
I knew I would overthink and overanalyze every word. My husband tended not to do that. So he made a quick call while I was out of earshot. A few minutes later he said the only words I needed to hear-“Everything’s great at home!” And off we went, just the two of us.
If anxiety is getting the best of you, start small. Go away for two days and one overnight, a short distance from home. But go!
Your marriage preceded your children and is meant to outlast raising them. Your family stands upon its sturdy foundation.
So make time to switch out of “parent mode” and into “couple mode” for a few days. Savor that glass of wine and make a private toast—to the two of you, your family, your future.