Last month, I went to Majorca without my children. Just me and nine other women. A beachfront hotel with a rooftop terrace. No kids. No sand in our rosé wine. No tantrums interrupting our siestas. For four glorious days, I didn't once step on a LEGO brick or have to pin a small person down to brush their hair.
I'm aware that not everybody can afford to go on vacation to Majorca, with or without their kids. (FYI, I live in the U.K., so it's not exactly jet-setting travel; I'm certainly not lucky enough to be able to jet off to Hawaii whenever I need a break from motherhood.) But I'm grateful that I'm in a position to be able to do that — not on a regular basis by any means, but often enough to let me feel like I've really been able to relax and recharge, entirely removed from the family home.
I used to feel guilty for leaving my kids behind for a few days, but looking back, I can see that was just wrapped up in the overall guilt that all single parents experience. I had already split my kids' family unit in two, and now I was waving goodbye to them as I hotfooted it off on a city break? But still, I went, and that first time was tough. It was much, much tougher than simply dropping them at their dad's place for a couple of nights and returning to my own home, which may have been a break from my children, but was by no means a vacation. I did housework. I did paperwork. I sorted laundry and prepared meals for the following week. Typically, in those early days, there was also a fair amount of sitting around drinking wine and beating myself up over my decision to become a single parent while I scrolled through 10 million photos of my kids on my phone. I may have cried a little — or a lot. When the kids came back to me on Sunday evening, my house was spotless, but my stress levels were through the roof and I had a killer hangover to boot. Relaxed and refreshed? Not so much.
Over time, I realized that spending my weekends in this way was doing none of us any good. So I vowed to keep my wine intake to a minimum and do at least one thing every weekend that I couldn't easily do when the kids were in my care. A long run. A long lie. A trip to the cinema to see a movie that didn't feature animated fish. And, eventually, the occasional trip away.
Some might say it's selfish to go on vacation without your kids. I say the complete opposite. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's necessary.
I appreciate my kids even more when I come back to them, and I'm pretty sure the feeling is mutual. As a single mother, I have a pretty intense relationship with my kids. I'm their primary caregiver, and neither of them is old enough to really remember what it was like when we were a family of four instead of three. I probably do overcompensate for this, primarily in affection and attention — and yes, sometimes in new LEGOs — which means time apart from them can be more of a wrench for all of us.
My longest trip away from my kids was when I visited my friend in Vietnam. My son was only 5 years old; my daughter merely 2. I was enormously apprehensive about traveling over 5,000 miles to leave them in the care of their father and grandparents for an entire week. I missed them terribly — of course I did. But I can't deny the feeling of complete freedom I had, pretty much as soon as I took my seat on the plane. For starters, air travel without children is wonderful after five years of flights with at least one squirmy, hungry, overtired tot in tow. I napped. I watch a movie without a single interruption. I ordered more than one alcoholic drink. I appreciated every single second of alone time on that 13-hour flight, and I can say the same for the rest of the trip.
There's something about being away from my kids in this way — as in another city, another country or even another continent — that has a way of reinforcing the bond between us. In this case, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I miss them so much it's actually a physical sensation in or somewhere very close to my heart. But I also treasure my time away from them, knowing I'll go back to them more than ready to pick up the parenting reins again.
The best part of all? My kids are always fine when I'm away, which tells me that despite any lingering single-parent guilt, I'm doing a pretty good job of bringing them up to be happy, secure, independent young people.
Every parent is a better parent when they're not stressed and burned out. A child-free vacation is the perfect way to redress the balance — for the whole family.
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