The plane lurched upward and soon we were above the clouds on our way to six days in southern California. The “we” was my husband and I, no kids. I had to pinch myself! Just us – a phrase seldom used in the fourteen years since our first child was born.
For me and for many of us as parents, time away without the kids is difficult to imagine, let alone achieve. Making it happen usually requires recognizing our own needs – physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual.
This inward journey may lead us back to our own childhood to confront beliefs and attitudes related to “leaving the kids.” Most importantly, we may be forced to examine our commitments to ourselves, our marriage, our family, and the myriad of other “hats” we wear.
Parenting is 24 – 7
Parenthood is the one job in life where there is little or no formal training, no regular paycheck, uncertain benefits, little if any vacation, no promotions, infrequent recognition…..you get the idea! We’re constantly on duty, on call, on deck, on guard, on and on and on!
It can be exhausting, overwhelming, intense, demanding – no matter what our age or family configuration. This is one TOUGH JOB!! It can take every ounce of our strength and energy, plus some. Our sense of “self” can get lost in the process, one which seemingly has no end in sight.
Needs exist for each person
Most of us have heard the line, “Once you have kids, life will never be the same again.” There is usually a negative tone attached to these words. Implied in this statement is that we’ll have less time – for sleep, relaxation, spontaneity, eating out, recreation, hobbies, social life, etc., etc.
Newborns quickly confirm their neediness and complete dependence on us, so we make the necessary sacrifices to meet their needs. Their needs change over time, but nonetheless continue as kids grow. Even teenagers need us despite their cries for independence.
Becoming parents, however, does not make our own needs disappear. In fact, frequently parents’ needs for affirmation, support, renewal, and information increase as parents are busy raising their children. Giving ourselves permission to meet these and other needs can be an internal battle for some of us.
“We never do anything without the kids” may be a phrase that we inherit from our past or adopt as a new belief. “The kids always come first” may also reside in our hard drives, blocking us from self care.
Allowing ourselves to sleep, go for a walk, read a book, call a friend or travel without them may bring on guilt or perhaps criticism from extended family. “Never” and “always” can prevent us from getting our own needs met.
Consider your car. Cars can only go for so long without refueling. Some have small tanks requiring more frequent trips to the station. Others visit the station less often. Some models perform fine with regular unleaded gas. Others need plus or premium each time to function at an optimum level.
Our own needs for refueling vary. For some, a quiet time of reading, meditation, or prayer can refuel us. Maybe your “thing” is writing, calling a friend, or losing yourself in a TV show. We can “get away” without going away from home. Sometimes the real difficulty lies in choosing to give time to yourself over time to the undone tasks on our continually growing TO DO list!
Getting refueled without the kids AND away from home takes some planning, particularly if you are raising younger kids. Arranging for responsible childcare, even for an evening out, let alone an extended getaway, can mean literally hours of planning ahead – phone calls, preparing the house, the kids, yourself….the list goes on.
For some of us, the emotional pain of leaving or “letting go” can be even more of a hurdle than the actual planning of the event. Handing over the “controls” to someone else can be a huge step.
Throughout the weeks prior to our departure for California, I experienced moments of joyful anticipation combined with weariness and thoughts such as, “Is this really worth it?” I typed out lists of food, kids’ schedules, emergency phone numbers, cleaned the house, made arrangements with the grandparents, talked with the kids about our trip, what their responsibilities would be while we were away, etc., etc., etc.
Benefits of “leaving the kids”
Reflecting back on the “leave of absence,” here are some of the positives we experienced:
- Reconnection as a couple – We get so caught up in the day-to-day routine of work, home, and parenting. It was so refreshing to just be a couple without the “have to’s” of life. I rediscovered how much I like “us!”
- New view of family – Though we thought about and missed our kids while away, we kept in touch via e-mail and Facetime. It was fun to hear about home and keep them informed about our activities. “I miss you and love you” sounded so wonderful on the screen. Coming home was a sweet reunion filled with stories.
- Role modeling for kids – Our kids were able to see us as a couple, not just Mom and Dad. Hopefully we conveyed to them the priority we place on our marriage and time together.
- Learning for kids – The grandparents ran things their way which was not the same as “normal.” Yet everyone still survived! The kids learned that there is no one right way to run a household.
- Relationship building – Due to a seven hour power outage courtesy of a fast dumping snowstorm, grandchildren and grandparents needed to pull together to stay warm and renegotiate all of my carefully thought-out and neatly typed plans! What a story they now share between them.
Leaving the kids behind may truly put us all ahead.
By Pam Nicholson, MSW, Certified Parenting Educator
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