For the first two and a half years of my daughter’s life, she wasn’t away from me (or her dad) for more than one night. We took our first multi-day trip away from her when she was 2 ½. Maybe this is earlier than some parents, later than others, but it felt just right for us. Here’s what I learned about balancing my need for a break and the anxiety that comes from leaving your kid (albeit in capable, loving hands), and timing of the trip.
Getting emotionally ready
For your first multi-day trip away from your kid, there are some factors to consider that could make it easier for everyone. First, you need to decide whether you’re ready emotionally, and that time could be different for everyone. When my daughter was born, all I wanted to do was be around her, cuddle her, soak in every little smile, breath, yawn, smell. A trip away from her didn’t feel right to me at that time.
I dove into the deep end of motherhood with ecstatic glee. I wanted to fully immerse myself in the role of ‘mama’. Aside from newborn exhaustion, sleep deprivation, and struggling to find sea legs in this new role, I was doing pretty good.
Then I started to get fatigued.
But I didn’t want to admit it because I felt ashamed for feeling that way. After all, I had wanted this so badly, and this was what moms are supposed to do, right? I think I was internalizing the societal pressure that all moms feel to do it all, be it all, and love it all when in reality, we can’t do it all at once. We can do it all over time. When we’re honest with ourselves and each other, it normalizes the experience for everyone.
Once I was honest with myself, I could give myself permission to take a break and restore my resources.
Logistics to consider
The main reason for waiting until our daughter was 2 ½ for both parents to be gone multiple nights was a practical one. It’s a lot to ask of someone to watch a baby who still wakes every 3 hours to eat, or wakes up multiple times per night, or is in the middle of sleep training, or is just in a difficult phase. I also wanted to have time to slowly expose her to one or both parents being gone for more than just an evening. Once we moved beyond the night time feedings, settled into a sleep routine, and established potty training, we felt like the time was right for us to make a multi-night trip without a kid in tow. This is also about the time I started to really, really need it.
We decided to pick a place that was a one-stop flight so that we would have minimal complications and be able to get home quickly should an emergency arise. From those options, we decided on Park City, Utah, because it was a nice combination of beautiful outdoors to explore and things to do around town.
I did experience anxiety the weeks leading up to our trip. I did my best to quiet these thoughts and emotions, because I knew we both needed this trip and I wanted to be fully present. I don’t think I’ll ever get over these feelings in situations like this; I’ll just get better at managing it.
TIP: Using mindfulness techniques and short meditations helped me work through this.
TIP: Start talking about the event a couple of weeks prior, to prepare your child so he or she feels a part of the journey, aware, and in control.
During the weeks leading up to our trip, we prepared our daughter by telling her that mommy and daddy would be gone for a few days and grandparents (that she feels comfortable with and loves) will be here to play until we get back. We also played Daniel Tiger episodes that referenced this exact thing. She even started singing the song ‘Grown-ups always come back’ whenever we talked about it!
She was a little bit sad sometimes, but never inconsolable, and had a great time with grandparents. She was excited to see us when we got home, and happily told us all about her fun time with her grandparents. I’m glad that we both had the opportunity to experience this and see that we’d both be okay. I think it built confidence for both of us.
Enjoy the trip!
It felt weird to be at the airport with my husband, just the two of us, drinking a beer and talking, reading a book on the plane, doing all of the things we used to do when we traveled. Except for this time, many of our verbal exchanges were about our daughter–what she might be doing, the cute thing she did recently, how amazed we are with her.
It was nice to enjoy a leisurely dinner without interruptions, a bedtime schedule to keep, or messes to clean up. One afternoon after we’d been laying around for a few hours, I commented to my husband that I’ve never felt so lazy in my life, and I didn’t see myself getting up anytime soon. The ability to just lay there without anything to do until I wanted to do it was quite refreshing.
I think I was expecting to feel totally refreshed like I wasn’t the mother of a 2 ½-year-old or something. That maybe this milestone would feel more monumental. While it was refreshing and relaxing, I realized that this first trip was more about seeing that I would be okay, my daughter would be okay, and that I can give myself permission to need breaks.
Now, I’m much more in tune with my needs, and how and when to give myself the breaks I need. Missing a bedtime a couple of times a month for a restorative yoga class, or spending some weekend mornings working out or doing another activity I enjoy, and even one-night staycations are all things that are very doable. I need to do them.
Nothing will last unless it’s sustainable–fitness, healthy eating habits, mothering–a consistent, persistent approach beats an intense and sporadic approach any day. It’s important for us to fill our cups, whatever that means for you. I’m calmer, more present, more fun, and more like the kind of mom I want to be when I do.