Two weeks ago, I went on a trip to my home state of New Mexico. By myself. As in, without kids.
I was gone from Thursday morning until Sunday night, and my husband took care of our girls (ages 4.5 and 3). This was only the third time in nearly five years of parenting that I have voluntarily left my children overnight, and it’s the longest by a night.
On the one hand, I am not a big fan of leaving my children. On the other hand, I am a huge fan of getting more than eight consecutive kid-free, non-work hours every once in a while. I couldn’t imagine leaving my daughters when they were infants and toddlers, but now that they are preschoolers, I’m starting to get more comfortable with the idea.
“Starting” being the operative term.
I spent the four days before I left in a tizzy of anxiety. I was making lists, running errands, and running myself in circles for no apparent reason. I went grocery shopping (even though my husband is a far better shopper and cook than I am), I bought a couple of small presents and books for the girls to open while I was away (even though I don’t believe in bribing children out of hard feelings), and I wrote them each cards to read in case they missed me. I tidied up the house (even though I knew it would be a mess again within minutes of my departure), did the laundry, and wrote and rewrote my packing list. I didn’t sleep for the two nights before I left.
Whether it’s spent lounging at the beach or hiking in the woods, every mother could use some vacation time.There was no real reason for any of it (other than my own overwhelming anxiety, of course). My husband is perfectly capable of taking care of our girls, and except for the fact that they didn’t get a bath the whole time I was gone, everything went as smoothly as possible. He got them each to try new foods (apparently our little ones are now into raw currants), and he never needed to bribe them with toys, or soothe them with the cards or books I left for them. They’re still sitting on his desk.
Sure, the girls missed me (I think), and I definitely missed them, but nobody was traumatized or even really upset. We got back into our regular routine a few minutes after they woke up on Monday morning. My husband travels a few times each month for work, so he’s used to it by now. Clearly I’m not there yet, but I think I should be.
Since I’m the primary caretaker for our children, it is a bit more disruptive when I leave home for the night. Nonetheless, everyone in our family benefits when I get out of the picture every once in a while. I get a much-needed break, time that helps me feel nourished, rested, and ready to fully re-engage with the hard work of raising children. My husband gets solid alone time with our children, which doesn’t often happen due to his busy travel schedule. And the girls learn that they will be safe, happy, and cared for even when Mommy is not around. They also learn that adults can go away and then come back.
The reality is that it’s much easier for all of us to get comfortable with family disruptions when they happen in low-stress situations rather than crises that may require me to leave on short notice, which has happened twice to my older daughter. The first time was when I went into labor with her younger sister, and the second time was about four months later, when my mother ended up in the intensive care unit in California. Even though the first “crisis” was a good one, they were both stressful times, and being away from my daughter didn’t make them any easier.
Current trends in parenting advice seem to be hyper-focused on the importance of a healthy attachment, and understandably so. A strong relationship to parents and other caregivers provides an important foundation for happiness and success in virtually every area of life. But it doesn’t stop there. We also need to help our children become resilient, flexible and confident in their ability to handle challenges and changes. If we’re lucky, we can do it in a thoughtful, intentional way. That’s what my short trips away are all about.
It would be tempting to tell myself that I’m the only one who can properly care for my girls, but fortunately for all of us, it’s just not true. The truth is that our entire family is better off when I get away every once in a while. I’m already making plans for two nights away in November.
This piece originally appeared in The Jewish Advocate on August 1, 2013.