Warm weather and Easter are on the horizon. This means parents are starting to think about ideas for a fun spring break trip with the kids. The beach? Disney? The local ski slope?
But are any of you thinking instead: it would be nice to go on vacation…alone?
One mom, Lauren Apfel, wrote about this vacation-for-one concept for the Washington Post. Her argument was simple: being a fulltime stay-at-home parent is a job. A demanding 24/7 job. The average American worker is entitled to 16 days of paid leave a year. Why not Mom too?
The outcry against her was vicious and immediate. Because, you know, moms are supposed to be heroic and selfless. Here are some of the nastiest comments:
“Talk about the heights of self absorbing self interest…Why did you have kids in the first place if you knew you were this self centered?
“Lady you deserve a lot of paid vacation for all your sacrifices. God help your poor children, and husband too. Maybe he’ll be giving you a permanent break one day.”
Those critics are dead wrong. I’m not sure they actually have kids. Or a spouse. They’d never be so callous if they’ve ever been home, alone, with three young children for more than two days at a time.
That vacation-for-one mom is dead right. I count myself as lucky to have three kids who were born within five years. Motherhood is the greatest joy, the wildest adventure, of my life. Over the past two decades, in addition to raising my kids, I worked outside the home fulltime, part-time, and not at all. I can testify that taking care of kids is brutal, frustrating, exhausting, gratifying work – the hardest job I’ve ever had. Plus the one for which I had the least education, training, and natural skills.
So not surprisingly, after about 10 years, I could have used a break. It was hard to ask out loud for one, to admit even to myself that I wanted and needed a timeout from my children. I thought the harder I worked, the better mom I would be. That whole martyr thing, right?
I remember when I got my sudden respite. My husband and I had planned a family vacation one summer. I unexpectedly had to stay behind for two days, alone, to take care of something at work. My husband forged ahead with our three kids.
Suddenly I was home alone. For a decade I had put my husband and three kids first every minute of every day. Happily. Joyfully. Without thinking it was sacrifice.
Then, whammo. Two days alone in my own house. Two days without nagging anyone. Two days without cooking for anyone but myself. Two days of uninterrupted sleep in my own bed.
It was bliss. I cried with relief and joy. I felt like I never wanted to see my kids and husband again.
Then I felt guilty. But not guilty enough to join them. Or even check in via phone.
Instead of feeling like a terrible mom, I remembered another woman’s advice. Before I had kids, I had a bubbly fulltime at-home mom tell me that once a month, she booked herself into a cheap local motel for a night to get sleep, talk to her girlfriends, watch TV and paint her toenails.
“That one night alone SAVES me,” she said. “And I’m always dying to get back to my kids by the next morning.”
Great advice I was never smart enough to take.
But let me offer it to you parents of young kids and crazy teenagers. Try hard to take a break. Together as a couple or alone. Especially if you are a single parent, caring for a disabled child or relative, or if your spouse is unable or unwilling to contribute a fair share at home.
You don’t have to tell anyone that you need a break, and no one has the right to judge you for it. Ignore what all the disapproving, jealous onlookers have to say. This is your family and your life. One measly night! A micro vacation-for-one will make you a better parent, in the short run and long run.
Do it for your kids if you can’t justify it for yourself. The truth is, kids want and need their parents to be rested and serene too. Your happiness makes them feel emotionally secure and stable. You’re delusional if you think your kids don’t notice when you’re stressed and frazzled; and the kid-centric reality is that they will find ways to blame themselves, not life, for your dissatisfaction.
So: find a local hotel with weekend specials. Or barricade yourself in your den or basement guest room or walk-in closet for a night. One night off doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. Or will be replaced. Trust me, your kids aren’t going anywhere. We may not get paid vacations from our jobs as parents, but we all need to take the time off anyway.