I love my son without limit. He is right in the middle between babyhood and being a big kid. At three years old, he still has that little soft blur around his features, and he can still fit on my lap curled up like a cat. But he is also stretching out, becoming more angular. His knees are scuffed. His fingernails get dirty quicker than I can clean them. He is shedding his infant title and becoming a boy, right before my eyes.
And up until now, my son and I have never really been apart. My husband and I both work from home, so it has always been the three of us together — all the time.
Recently, by way of a combined Christmas gift and a customer service blunder, we found ourselves on the receiving end of a travel voucher and began to plan a family vacation. Then, suddenly, my husband said, "What if just you and I went?"
Initially, we laughed it off. The idea of leaving our son behind while we went away seemed absurd, especially as our son had seen a brochure and was going around the house squealing, "Beachy! Beachy!"
But I couldn't stop thinking about it. Sleeping in, the lack of responsibility, being able to read a book or eat a meal in peace. It seemed too good to pass up. So I ran the idea past my husband again and saw his eyes light up — we were really going to do this.
Then the guilt crept in. "What kind of parents go on vacation without their kid?" I thought. "Our parents never did that to us! Is it selfish?"
But still, the appeal of all that free time — a whole week away — just seemed too delicious to dismiss. So I called my mom, who thought it was an amazing idea, especially as she would be at our house on her annual visit and would happily, with my father, care for our little one. My husband's parents also agreed to help out. And so we did it. We booked a vacation without our child.
Now that it is planned and paid for, I am actually ecstatic about our upcoming trip. I will miss our boy, for sure. But I know he will be well cared for and, honestly, I think my husband and I need this. So much changes when you become a parent that you inevitably lose a little of what made you a couple in the first place.
So rather than see this as a selfish move, I am actually now defending my kidless holiday as a way to focus on my marriage and return as a better parent. And I've got some professional opinions to back me up.
Jessica Elizabeth Opert, a love and relationship coach based in the U.K., believes a couples-only vacation can be incredibly beneficial to a relationship. "There is no need to feel guilty," she says. "Your marriage is your children's very first introduction to relationships ... taking the time away just the two of you to strengthen and nourish that bond is a gift for your entire family."
But not everyone shares my outlook. The travel agent we booked our trip with was particularly surprised, after we had chatted about our children for a little while, to hear that mine would not be accompanying us. She double checked: "So just the two of you?"
A few friends mommy-shamed me: "Oh, that's amazing, but I could never do that." As though, rather than simply traveling without our son, we were actually planning on feeding him to marauding lions.
I am not expecting our son to be too fazed by our departure — he is a very adaptable little fellow. I am a huge believer in generational learning and I know that my son's grandparents are fabulous role models for him. They have much to teach and they have a lot more patience than I do. So his time spent with them while we are away will be beneficial too. I believe he will cope quite well.
I also believe passionately that it is important for our son to see that his father and I value our relationship and that we will always commit to nourish our marriage for the benefit of our whole family. It's been a difficult start to the year for us; we dealt with a bereavement, among other things. There have been many changes to navigate, and the stress has been tangible. A little space (and sun) might be just what my husband and I need to get out of a yelling rut we have fallen into as a way of dealing with the usual preschooler tantrums.
Plus, studies have found that vacations lower stress. So that's almost like a doctor's permission slip to board a flight, right?
I have to admit that before having a child, I probably would have been one of the naysayers. I would have thought it selfish and cold to go away without your kids. But then I got sucked into the void of full-time parenting and realized that it's exhausting being a mom. I am with my child all day long. Quite frankly, I think he would probably like a little break from me, too.
But because I still feel a little guilty about leaving him behind, especially with his excited cries of "Beachy! Beachy!" we are planning another vacation later in the year — for all three of us.