Picture this: you’re sipping on a fresh cocktail with the exhilarating sea breeze on your skin and in your hair, the warmth of the sun surrounding you, and the sound of the waves crashing on the beach — it’s heaven.
Then, out of nowhere, the waft of sweat grows stronger, followed by sticky fingers prying your once-closed eyes open. Oops! It’s your little ones needing you to wash their hands or something that requires you to get up, thus destroying the aforementioned beautiful mental image of a holiday without kids.
They say a holiday with children isn’t truly a vacation. It’s just parents taking care of their little ones in a different location, which is so true. Many articles help prep parents for this, but what you don’t hear a lot about is going on vacation without the little ones after having them.
But as wonderful as the idea sounds, mom guilt is real. While it takes some getting used to, it’s certainly possible.
A dream that became reality
I recently did my first three-day-two-night leisure trip away from my two children — a five- and a three-year-old. The time away involved the sun, the sea, and the works! After saying yes to a fellow mama, a feeling of excitement and anticipation followed. Little did I realise my trip would require much more than just packing my clothes. I soon remembered that I was leaving my family behind, and it was something I’d never done before. And boy, did this mama have to work through some hard heart matters.
On my side, leading up to the trip, I kept reassuring myself that the kids would be fine with their father for two days and that eating McDonald’s for dinner was a treat for everyone. This is also a much-needed break for me, so it’s a win-win situation.
On the practical side of things, there was so much less to pack in the suitcase; it almost felt weird to be travelling so light. However, I did throw in an extra pair of nice shoes and a dress. It seemed only fitting since I wasn’t going to spend the entire trip carrying a back-pack filled with diapers and wet wipes.
Emotionally prepping yourself and the family
As the getaway date approached, the idea of leaving them had anxiety creep up on me. The first order of business was to mentally and emotionally prep myself for leaving. I thought, “There’s absolutely no shame or guilt in being away from your children for a couple of days for a much-needed break. You’ve been doing this stay-at-home-mum gig for five years and weathered a pandemic. Wasn’t this break all you ever dreamed of?” That was the gist of my daily self-pep-talk, and soon, the words helped change anxiety into excitement.
If anything was holding me back about going away on a trip, it was 99% on the health front — the kids, my husband’s, and mine. The first time my friend and I attempted to go away on my own, the place was booked and bags were out, but I had to postpone the trip because the husband fell sick and couldn’t care for the children! We pulled the plug at the 11th hour and arranged to go on the getaway another time.
I was adamant that it wouldn’t happen a second time. In the week leading up to the trip, I boosted everyone’s immunity to avoid the spell of illness. It was a week of vitamins A to Zinc, hot soups for days, plenty of rest, no prolonged bath time, and evading crowds as much as possible. Now, there was only one thing left: Tell the kids mama is going away for a bit.
Naturally, I was nervous about telling the children about being away for three days. For as long as they can remember and have probably lived, I’ve been at their beck and call around the clock, and now dread draped over me at the prospect of telling them their food-giver, driver, bum-wiper, and boo-boo kisser will be away for 60 hours.
Oh, the entire scenario would play out like a horror movie in my head for days before I finally mustered the courage to tell them that mummy would be going away for a very long grocery run.
Prep, prep, prep
I switched gears and wanted to make it fun and positive for everyone, so I drew a chart like the one above to help my children, especially my three-year-old son, understand as best possible how long three days is. We went over what would happen and made a promise to video call every night before bedtime. Two video calls, and then mummy would be home by the next day to pick them up from school.
For my older child, I suggested to my daughter, Zoe, that she could draw whatever she wanted at the end of our daily call to mark the day was done. Thankfully, they quite readily accepted the ideas I presented and went along with them. On the morning of my departure, I sat them down once more and ran through some facts and affirmations that included words like:
“Where is mummy going?”
“How long will mummy be away for?”
“Know that I’ll be back to pick you up from school on Friday.”
And, of course, the ever so important, “I love you so much.” To my surprise (and delight), they took my departure well. No tears, tantrums, or whining — just lots and lots of hugs, kisses, and smiles.
This is the most crucial part of prepping the kids and myself before leaving, especially for the first time, be it for work or leisure. Before the actual leaving happens, there’s a long runway for the connection between parent and child to be built. Children thrive on routine and consistency, and are constantly looking for their ‘north’ to navigate their activities and emotions.
Even though I will be away for three days, they know in their hearts that I’ll be back for them and pick them up as promised. I found peace and assurance in the fact that we’ve forged a blanket of security needed through the hours and days I’ve spent with them, which helped in moving forward with the big separation in a tantrum-free fashion.
As I waved them goodbye, while this first solo trip may have been hard, it can only get easier over time. I also smiled because dreams can come true, and in this case, the dream is a quick getaway sans kids.
*All images courtesy of the author