5 Things to Do Before You Go on Vacation Without Your Kid for the First Time
I admit I love traveling alone with my husband. I’ve taken at least five kid-free trips, and here’s my advice on how to handle them with ease, especially when your children are young.
Although we love family vacations and try to take one or two every year, my husband and I have gone on several kid-free trips throughout the years. We've traveled across the U.S. and recently returned from a glorious seven-night European river cruise on the AmaMora of AmaWaterways. And I admit I love traveling alone with my husband. These trips enhance our romance, friendship, and bring a renewed appreciation for what I love about him.
Our kids are now 18 and 21 so it's easier to leave them behind. But I know these childfree getaways—especially when it’s the first one—take a bit of preparation. I’ve taken at least five kid-free trips, and here’s my advice on how to handle them with ease, especially when your children are young.
Talk to your kids openly about your plans
If you and your partner are planning a vacation, it’s important to fill the kids in. Let them know that you are looking forward to spending time with your significant other. "It's good for children to see that their parents value their relationship and that they're nurturing it," says Amy Morin, a Florida-based relationship expert, psychotherapist, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do.
If the kids are likely to be excited about spending time with a caregiver or their grandparents, you may want to tell your children a few days in advance. But if your kids are likely to be unhappy you're going somewhere without them or they're going to be anxious about being away from you, it's OK to wait until the big day to tell them. "There's no sense in telling them earlier as they may spend more time being upset or worried,” advises Morin.
Keep in mind: Even if the kids seem a little upset it’s actually great for them to see their parents wanting alone time. "Role modeling the importance of bonding can help kids grow up to recognize that they need to put time and energy into growing their own relationships,” adds Morin.
Find the right caregiver while you’re away
Once you decide on a date that works for you, the next step is finding someone trustworthy who's available to watch your kids. Your parents and in-laws may be first on your list. Call and ask them if they’d be up to the task.
If grandparents are unable to watch the kids, says Morin, you might think about any other friends you have who might enjoy spending time with your kids. “Another couple without children or a single friend, for example, might appreciate the opportunity,” she says. Or, you may ask other parents who they recommend.
Just make sure it's someone your kids feel comfortable with. Otherwise, they may experience high anxiety about whether they're actually being cared for and whether the individual is able to handle any problems. “If you're thinking of hiring someone your children don't know, you may want to set up a time for that individual to come over and play with the kids ahead of time just to make sure it's a good match,” says Morin.
If you're jetting off during the school year and you have older children, it may be easier to have the grandparents or caregiver stay at your home so you don't disrupt your kids' routine. Whether that means they can follow their usual bedtime routines more easily or it allows them to play with their own toys, kids usually feel better when they're in a familiar environment.
And be considerate if you have furry friends. See if a friend can be your pet-sitter or consider boarding him, especially if your pet is fussy. Also, reach out to your friends and neighbors and tell them your kids will be home with grandparents and you'll be away. From my experience, I’ve learned many friends are happy to help out with play dates and carpooling.
In my case, my mom watched our children when we went to Hawaii, and my husband's parents watched our children when we were in California and Las Vegas. We've been lucky that our parents both live close-by and have always babysat.
Set expectations for everyone
Be sure to be clear about your expectations with your children, as well as with your parents, in-laws, or whoever you are trusting to watch your kiddos. The most important rules you'll want someone to follow are safety issues, including what foods they can't eat and any climbing habits they have. It’s OK to leave some of the discretion to your caregiver or grandparents. “Don't bombard a caregiver with too many rules,” says Morin. “And don't worry too much if your child stays up a few minutes later than usual or eats an extra snack. It won't hurt your kids in the long run.” It's also a good idea to help the caregiver out by leaving some information about your children’s typical routine and ideas for how to keep everyone entertained.
Plan out medical care in the case of an emergency. “Sometimes this may need to be notarized so call your local hospital and doctor's office to be sure what they can accept,” says Heather Ackley, MSW, executive director of New Hope Parenting Solutions, a Colorado-based nonprofit helping caregivers implement effective parenting strategies. Also, leave an insurance card and a credit card, and some cash for activities.
Stay in contact
Morin suggests establishing a guideline about communication up front. For example, you might say you'll call at bedtime to check in with everyone. You also might ask the caregiver to send you a text message at certain times, such as when the kids are home from school, finished eating, or when they're in bed.
“Depending on your children, you might invite them to call you,” says Morin. “If you think they'd only call if they were really having a problem, this might be a good idea."
And there's also nothing wrong with setting limits with your kids about calling for non-emergencies if you feel it will interfere with the purpose of the trip, which is to spend time together as a couple.
Leave the guilt behind
Through the years, I have felt some worry and guilt leaving my children, especially when they were younger. But, my mother and mother-in-law assured me all would be fine. When my children got phones, I could reach out to them directly. More often than not, they brushed off my concern and said they were having a great time without us.
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I know my trips have been good for them, too. Time away helps your children gain independence. "It gives them an opportunity to practice being without you," says Morin. For example, younger kids can learn how to deal with slightly different rules: Grandma may allow for a little TV before bed, which may not be the typical way they are put to bed in your house. Older kids, says Morin, can practice solving problems on their own and getting along well with others when you're away. Bottom line: Your absence will teach them patience, tolerance, and self-discipline while also giving them a chance to practice coping with uncomfortable emotions without you.
And it’s just as important for parents to have time together without the kids. "Parents need self-care, and they also need relationship care," says Ackley. In order to keep their relationship healthy, primarily for the empty nester years, adds Ackley, parents need to do things to protect it and stay connected: "A vacation is a great way to do that, especially if there haven’t been many date nights lately."
Erica Lamberg is married and the proud mother of a daughter and a son. She resides in suburban Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Gannett newspapers, Reader's Digest, NBC News, and Oprah Magazine.