The Heavy Baggage of a Baby-Free Vacation
One dad reflects on navigating internal guilt and external judgment before a couples-only holiday without their 1-year-old son.
My wife and I are planning another one of our ambitious vacations. Ten days touring Berlin, the German countryside, and Warsaw.
The buildup is exciting. Flights and hotels are booked, intercity rail tickets purchased. Now to plan the real joys: a Berlin bicycle tour of Cold War landmarks, a surprise spa treatment for my wife in a converted 17th-century castle; a culinary tour of Warsaw.
We've been to Germany before, but never Poland. The Warsaw leg satisfies our decade-plus-long commitment to visiting one new nation per year. We've only missed that goal once. Last year, actually. Because of Nicholas...
Oh, did I mention we have a 1-year-old son?
Nicholas will not be accompanying us to Europe. While we're stuffing ourselves with potato-stuffed pierogies, he'll be swept up in a whirlwind, 10-day tour of his grandparents' house.
Hopefully, your reaction isn't mirroring that of most people upon learning of our tyke-free trip. It's a curious countenance, a medley of emotions with competing thought bubbles: appreciation ("That's awfully nice of his wife's parents"); judgmental bemusement ("That's a long time to leave Nicholas!"); and, most annoyingly, semi-mischaracterization ("They must really need a break from being parents").
If I could address these non-vocalized assumptions, my respective replies would be: "Yes, her parents are great"; "It's not that long"; and "Well...it's complicated."
Let's address the most accurate assessment first: Yes, my wife's parents are proud, doting, altogether wonderful grandparents. Nicholas is their first grandchild and, as he was born when my wife and I were 37 years old and married nine years, they see him as a long-awaited blessing.
It shows. Their love for him is effortless, cascading, pure. When they babysit Nicholas, my biggest concern is that he won't nap, because they can't get enough of him awake.
The point: My wife and I are less concerned about burdening Nicholas' grandparents for a week and a half than we are about getting him back upon our return. They may skip town with him.
That brings us to the duration of time—the prime suspect behind the eyebrow-raised reservations in those more accustomed to shorter (see: weekend-long) couples' getaways.
Despite being a great kid—good sleeper, not overly fussy—Nicholas is, by his very existence, the most consequential and demanding constant of our lives thus far. Calling the past year grueling would be an exaggeration, but the perpetuity of parenting is inherently draining.
It can also be blinding. The day-to-day grind of anything—work, marriage, relationships—makes it difficult to see the forest for the trees. Immersed in daily details, we react to life as it rushes past, making minor adjustments rather than major changes. We press forward with the best intentions but not always the soundest strategies.
My wife and I suspect that parenting falls into this "step back for a clearer view" category. We've never been away from Nicholas for any significant length of time, but our educated guess is that beneath the separation anxiety and cuteness withdrawal will be a much-needed deep breath that, once taken, will be revealing.
By stepping away from the most involved aspect of our lives—parenthood—we have the opportunity for a relaxed review of the 13 amazing yet disorienting months since Nicholas' arrival. We can honestly assess what's working and what isn't. We can connect previously disjointed dots, build upon established successes, and correct course where necessary.
Boarding a plane without Nicholas will, literally, provide a view from 30,000 feet. It's a chance to comprehensively assess our parenting thus far, an inevitable mix of reassurance and reprimand, all for our son's benefit.
But, per our suspicious inquisitors' third thought bubble, it is really all for Nicholas' sake?
Against the hovering trend of helicopter parenting, such an extended break from Nicholas seems gasp-worthy. The quizzical expressions our plans evoke suggest we should feel guilty for leaving our baby behind while gallivanting across Europe. And indeed we do.
But not much.
In a modern nuclear family where both parents have 50-hour-per-week careers, it truly takes a village to raise a child. In our case, it takes a clan: Nicholas is blessed to have extended family play a significant role in his upbringing. His grandparents, aunts, and uncles bring individual talents, perspectives, and wisdom, filling gaps left by his parents' inexperience and imperfections.
Some parents are too prideful to cede such power. We are not, because in accepting help, we help our son.
And yes, we also help ourselves. For two people passionate about travel, this trip represents something in which more parents should invest: resentment insurance.
Too many couples shelve—purportedly temporarily, but probably permanently—their passions upon becoming parents. It's one thing to backburner lifelong interests; removing them from the stovetop is something else entirely. Completely replacing our passions with our children is a recipe for resentment.
Our interests, hobbies, and pursuits help make us who we are, and we don't want to hold a grudge—subconscious or otherwise—against our child just for being...well, a child.
And so, tinges of guilt in tow, we hope to return relaxed, refreshed, and with the renewed optimism afforded by a passion properly pursued. Nicholas can join us...next time.