One of the great joys of parenting young children is getting away from them. At least for a little while. Be it a couple of hours or a couple of days, there is nothing like a little distance to recharge everyone’s batteries and make you grateful that you are legally/morally/financially bound to the little bloodsuckers darlings until the end of time.
The problem with getting away is finding someone to watch the kids while you and your sweetie are off chugging margaritas and/or sleeping 16 hours a day. Trusting someone to watch your precious babies is not easy. Will they remember to use the dye-free detergent? Will they limit screen time? Will they cut the hot dogs lengthwise and across?
No. No, they won’t. And that’s OK.
Years ago, my sister-in-law, Dawn, gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received from anyone before or since. I was about to leave my kids for a week for the first time with my in-laws, and I was a nervous wreck. I worried that favorite books would go unread, binkies would go unwashed and (gasp) bedtimes would go unheeded. Dawn fought the impulse to slap me silly and kindly said, “As long as they’re alive when you get back, that’s all that matters.”
And she was right. Of course my in-laws weren’t going do things like I did. Or even like I asked them to. Did I really expect them to follow the five-page, single-spaced, Unabomberesque manifesto I’d left behind entitled, “A Typical Day in the Life of Fletcher and Ellie.” They probably had a good laugh before lighting it on fire and deciding instead to rely on what they’d learned in their 30-plus years of parenting their own children.
And really, my fear had nothing to do with them. It was all me. As a stay-at-home mom, creating and protecting my kids’ routines was what I did. It was my job. My life. Whether it was a survival mechanism or simply my ego, I had to believe that those routines were essential to our peaceful existence. If not, then why the hell was I working so hard at it?
As long as they are alive when you get back… It was just the paradigm shift I needed. It helped me see that going on vacation was going to be a break for all of us. Just as Jimmy and I wouldn’t spend every day of our lives eating surf ’n’ turf and drinking Mai Tais, the kids wouldn’t spend every day of theirs watching eight hours of TV and drinking chocolate milk by the gallon. The hard work I’d put in on sleep-training, potty-training and don’t-think-throwing-a-fit-is-going-to-get-you-what-you-want-training would still be there even if it went unenforced for a week.
The fact is that if you are going to reap the benefits of getting away (and there are many), you must get comfortable with the fact that whoever watches your kids will not do things your way. This goes for grandparents, siblings, friends or hired help. I repeat: They will not do it your way, so don’t even expect them to. They will think your way is stupid, over-protective, unnecessarily complicated, going to turn the kids into entitled spoiled brats who don’t know the value of a dollar. But that’s fine. As long as the kids are alive when you get home, it doesn’t matter if they’ve fallen asleep in front of the television three nights in a row and eaten ice cream for breakfast every day or missed that birthday party you’d RSVP’d to on Sunday. None of that is important. What is important is that you got some much needed time to remember that you are more than just a mother/father, that you actually like your partner and/or that you actually like your kids. Because time away provides one thing you simply cannot get while at home with your kids: perspective.
Would it be nice if the kids were well rested, well fed and content when you got home from your vacay? Sure. But getting the opportunity to gain valuable perspective (read: sleep more than six consecutive hours) is luxury enough. You wouldn’t want to get greedy now, would you?