Once a year, since my daughter was 2, I’ve prioritized taking a three-day vacation away from her. It wasn’t my idea at first. It was something my friends pushed me into. But over the past two years, it has become something I’ve come to recognize as crucial for my overall well-being.
Three days might not sound like much, but as a single mom, it’s about all I can swing. I usually swap long weekends with friends who are also looking to get away. They take my girl while I’m gone, and I take their kids a few weekends later. I travel to someplace near home, usually with other friends in need of a break.
The goal, for me, isn’t a long and luxurious vacation. Some parents may find they need longer getaways, and if you can pull that off, more power to you! But for me, three days is enough. Enough for what, you ask? Well, read on and discover why I am such a strong advocate for parents making it a priority to get time away from their kids.
Let’s be honest: Parenthood is draining. No matter how much you love your kids (and of course we all love our kids), being a parent takes a lot out of a person. You are constantly committing your energy and resources to this little person who needs so much from you. You do things for them, at the expense of doing things for yourself. And you rarely ever get the sleep you need.
Parenthood can deplete your energy like nothing else and a kid-free vacation is about recharging that. It’s about sleeping in, focusing only on your needs, and giving yourself permission to simply be kind to yourself for a few days.
My biggest struggle with a kid-free vacation initially was just separating myself from my daughter. She had a lot of separation anxiety. And I probably did, too. I think we were both convinced I was the only one who could take care of her.
No matter what we believed, though, the truth is, there are many people in our lives who love my daughter and are perfectly capable of caring for her for a few days. In the end, it actually benefits my girl to get some time with these other adults who aren’t me. We both grow in that time apart, and we have both learned that she is perfectly capable of thriving without me hovering nearby.
As parents, our default setting is to take care of everyone else. We wipe butts, rarely get to eat a full meal without having to get someone something, and are constantly considering our kids’ needs ahead of our own.
A kid-free vacation is about reversing that pattern, even if only for a few days. It’s about enjoying meals that you don’t have to cook or serve, letting the hotel cleaning staff make your bed and clean your sink for a change, and simply enjoying not having anyone but yourself to worry about.
Often, parents don’t realize how many of their daily conversations revolve around kids. For married couples, a kid-free vacation can be a chance to actually talk to one another. And talk not about their child’s report card or who is going to shuttle the kids to next week’s T-ball practice, but about the things that allowed them to fall in love in the first place. It’s a chance to build upon that relationship, outside of your roles as parents. This is so important, because maintaining a healthy marriage allows you to ultimately be better parents.
For single parents like me, the total immersion in parenthood can be even more extreme. You’re so busy doing it all for your kids, you don’t have as much time to nurture your adult relationships. I sometimes go days without talking to another grown-up about anything beyond work or my kid. But when I take these vacations, I reconnect with my friends and with other adults we meet along the way. I make eye contact, I have conversations about things that matter to me, and I remember how invigorating it is to just connect.
This brings me to perhaps the most important reason you need a kid-free vacation: Because you are more than just Mom or Dad. You had passions before parenthood, and you have passions still. But often, those passions are pushed down in favor of taking care of your kids. Getting away for a few days without your kids allows you to remember the things that fuel you beyond parenthood.
For me, that often means spending a lot of time outdoors hiking and getting as much reading in as I possibly can. Those are things I love, and they’re things I don’t get to do nearly as much (at least, not in the ways I prefer) now that I’m a parent.
These vacations are a way of reminding myself that Mommy is not all of who I am. And that reminder is something all parents need from time to time.
What are some other ways parents can prioritize their own needs and nurture their own mental health?
• Scheduling time for regular exercise can help on all fronts, especially if it is done on your own or with other adults only.
• Be honest with yourself about how much sleep you need and look for ways to get enough.
• Seek out people who share your grown-up interests and expand your social circle beyond the parents of your kids’ friends. • You could join a book club, or start one!
• When you have date night or other outings, try including an activity or topic to talk about so you don’t automatically fall into your same old daily conversations.