Tips for reconnecting, recharging, and, most importantly, leaving the kids with the grandparents
What can we say? Quarantining with children has a way of killing the mood. The mood for, well, anything. Everything. It’s a grind. It’s a hassle. It’s … whatever the opposite of a vacation is.
But now, with the kids back in school (even if that situation is a bit nerve-wracking and fraught), it might be time to at least daydream about taking a kid-free vacation, or even to begin planning one outright. (Even if it’s just a weekend staycation.)
Sure, family vacations can help your children strengthen sibling relationships, connect with relatives, experience new locations and unfamiliar situations and make the kind of memories that last forever. Even if they’re as simple as a weekend at a local campground, they also teach important life skills such as “how to sit in the car without complaining” and “how not to fight over the last marshmallow.”
But it turns out, taking parent getaways without the kids can also teach important life skills — not only to your children, but also to you and your partner. While your kids are building their independence and bonding with cousins or grandparents, you and your partner are learning how to reconnect with each other and navigate your own unfamiliar situations — including how to have a conversation with each other that isn’t just about the kids.
This kind of trip takes planning, especially because you’re essentially planning two trips at once — one for your kids, and one for you. What kind of work do you need to do before you leave, and how can you create the kind of parents-only vacation that will be a truly relaxing experience?
We reached out to two parents (and parenting experts): Jen Bradley of Jen Bradley | Moms, a parenting site that helps mothers simplify their lives, and Yasmine Muhammad of mater mea, a platform for Black moms. Here’s how they suggest you plan relaxing and romantic parent getaways — and why it’s so important for parents to take time for themselves.
In this article:
Make the kind of plans you can’t make with kids around
Traveling without kids is a rare experience — so try to plan the kind of travel experience that you can only have when the kids aren’t around. “My husband and I did Rome all by ourselves,” explains Bradley. “We spent three days and hit all of the major sites. No kid schedules, no nap schedules, no constraints.”
For some couples, a three-day whirlwind tour of Rome might be exactly the kind of romantic getaway that refreshes and rejuvenates. If you’re in the middle of one of those parenting stages where every day feels like a whirlwind, you might even prefer a vacation that involves less walking and more opportunity for naps — your own, of course!
“If you’re looking for something relaxing you may want to pick a peaceful tropical island,” says Muhammad. “If you’re looking for something adventurous, you may want to pick a place with a lot of outdoor activities.”
Whatever trip you choose, make sure you specifically plan activities that you and your partner both enjoy — and that your kids probably wouldn’t. Whether you’re hiking, spending the day at an art museum or making a reservation for the kind of dining experience that your kids would consider “boring” or “yucky,” take advantage of everything a child-free vacation can offer.
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Make sure your kids are prepared for what will happen while you are away
In some cases, letting your children spend a week with their grandparents will be as much of a vacation for your kids as it will be for you. In other cases, your kids may feel envious that you get to go on a plane while they have to go stay with their cousins. Young children might also feel anxious about what might happen while you are away — whether they’re worried about changes in their own routine, or whether they’re nervous that something might happen to you while you’re gone.
“Any time I leave my kids I make sure that I’m honest about what’s going on, who they’ll be with, and how they can reach me,” says Muhammad. “I hype up all the fun adventures they’re going to have while I’m away, and I also have a talk with them about being on their best behavior so that everyone has a good experience.”
Making sure everyone has a good experience is crucial — after all, you and your partner won’t be able to have much of a romantic getaway if you’re worried about how your kids are doing. Whenever possible, make sure your kids are staying with trusted adults whom they like; if those adults have children, make sure your kids view them as friends and playmates, not adversaries. That way, you can frame both your experience and your children’s experience as an opportunity to relax and have fun during a weekend getaway.
“If my kids don’t feel comfortable staying there, then they won’t be staying there,” says Muhammad.”
Bradley agrees. “Let them know that this is time for them to go on their vacation, too,” she advises. “Focus on the exciting and fun things that they get to do, and let them know that you’ll be thinking of them while you’re apart.”
Have a communication plan — but don’t check in too often
Smartphones make it easy to check in with your young children no matter where you go — but make sure you and your partner don’t spend so much time checking up on your kids that you forget to take time for yourselves on your perfect getaway.
“Don’t inflate how accessible you’re going to be,” warns Bradley. Talk to your kids and their caregivers in advance, and let them know how often you plan to check in. Some families may want to do a daily Zoom. Others may want to use this time as a way to encourage independence, and check in only every few days. Either way, let your kids and the trusted adults in charge know how you’re planning on keeping in touch — and let them know when it’s okay to breach the schedule and interrupt your peaceful retreat.
“If your kids are having a really hard time,” Bradley explains, “letting them know there’s a way for their caretaker to reach out to you is important. It can decrease their anxiety.”
That said, it’s a good idea to choose a trusted friend or relative who knows how to help your children manage their anxiety even when you’re gone. “Make sure it’s someone who will allow you to enjoy your time away,” says Muhammad, “and won’t call and tell you to come back unless it’s an emergency.”
Whether you’re hiking, spending the day at an art museum or having a dining experience your kids would consider “boring” or “yucky,” take advantage of everything a child-free vacation can offer.
Be prepared to manage your own anxieties
What’s the best way to help your kids avoid feeling anxious while you’re away? Make a plan, set expectations and make sure they have a lot of fun activities on the schedule. What’s the best way to help you avoid feeling anxious while you’re away from your kids? The exact same thing.
“Just as you help your kids plan in advance, do the same for yourself,” explains Bradley. “This is the book that I really want to read, this is the spa package that I’m really looking forward to. Having a clear plan — we’re going to see these monuments and visit these museums — can help distract you from all of the initial worries that come with leaving your children.”
Muhammad agrees. “To me, the biggest thing about making sure you have an enjoyable and relaxing trip is to make time to actually vacay. Plan out your fun days and your massages and breakfast in bed.”
Bradley even suggests that parents start every day of their vacation reminding themselves of their big goal: to reconnect, relax and rejuvenate. Use this time as a relaxing retreat for you and your partner. “It takes presence of mind and a little bit of reframing each day,” she explains. “This is why I’m here, this is my purpose. That way, when you’re reunited with your kids, you’ll be refreshed.”
Use your trip as a way to plan future family vacations
Here’s one last tip from our parenting experts: If you’re thinking about taking the kids to a must-see city, national park or theme park when they’re old enough to appreciate it, consider taking a parents-only trip in advance — not only as a way to relax and reconnect with your partner, but also as a way to prepare for a future family vacation.
“Go to the location and check it out,” advises Bradley. “Is this a great place to bring the kids, or not?” Whether it’s an adventurous road trip or a resort beach vacation, test the waters ahead of time to see if it’s a good idea for a family vacation.
Taking a parents-only vacation to a place where you might like to bring the family someday not only gives you the opportunity to become familiar with the location in advance — which could save you a lot of time, money and hassle when you return with kids in tow — but also removes some of the once-in-a-lifetime pressure that might come with visiting a popular vacation spot like Paris, Yellowstone or Disney World. If you and your partner take the vacation of your dreams now, you’ll be better prepared to help your kids experience the vacation of their dreams later.
That’s one of the big reasons why it’s so important to take one-on-one trips with your partner, by the way — because it gives you the chance to have the kind of experiences that not only refresh and revive, but also help you become better partners and better parents. Whether you’re getting lost in an unfamiliar city or seeing the ocean for the first time, the moments you share will teach you a lot about yourselves — and once you return home, you can share what you’ve learned with your kids.
Or, as Bradley puts it: “This is your opportunity to become a better parent when you return to them.” Coming back refreshed, rejuvenated and refocused — isn’t that what vacation is all about?
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Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.
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