Six years ago, mom Rochel Burstyn of metro Detroit did what she once considered the unthinkable. She set up one of those elusive solo vacations. Burstyn said goodbye to her husband and five children (then ages 12, 11, 9, 7 and 4) to spend two weeks in Australia.
“There was no way I was going to miss my sister’s wedding,” says Burstyn, a native Australian.
Yet when it came time to go, she was so nervous about leaving that she remembers actually trembling on the way to the airport as she repeated all the instructions and reminders that had already been written down for her husband.
“And then I just left. It was literally like out of sight, out of mind. It wasn’t like I didn’t care, because of course I did,” the Southfield mom recalls. “I just had done as much as I could and everything was out of my hands.”
For some parents, especially those with babies and very young children, just the idea of leaving home – even for a night or two – is scarier than the thought of taking kids to concerts and having to sit through Justin Bieber live. For a few of these parents, even acting on any date night ideas is a rare experience. If this describes you, could you imagine a “date night” that lasted an entire weekend or (gasp!) a whole week?
Although Burstyn has now checked “solo vacations” off her list, her feelings about leaving her kids were echoed by moms we spoke with who traveled alone or for a girls’ getaway and those who left town with a spouse to enjoy some much-needed adult time.
A chance to reconnect
It’s great to travel as a family, but there’s no disputing the fact that couples really do need to make time for themselves sans kids. It’s important for parents to not only remember who they are as a pair but also to be able to spend time focusing on each other without listening to sibling bickering, shuttling kids to and from after-school activities or any of the other myriad activities and distractions that children can bring to a relationship.
Aside from financial constraints or finding someone to watch the kids, many parents have a hard time leaving their children for an extended period of time because they feel guilty, nervous or both about going on vacation without kids.
That’s the case for Stephanie Kaplan of Royal Oak, who recently set out for a two-night wedding trip with her husband – for the first time since her son, 6 months, was born.
“I’ve never been more excited or felt more guilty about something,” Kaplan says, “but the anticipation of two carefree nights with my husband is what has kept me going.”
Many of the parents we spoke with who have taken adult-only solo vacations did so initially because of circumstances that forced them out of their comfort zone. But despite their reservations, none regretted the decision to go.
One of the things that helped ease their nervousness was leaving detailed lists and instructions.
When Novi mom Julie Song and her husband Tom went to Hawaii for their five-year anniversary, they left their 10-month-old baby in the care of her parents. They also left 10 typed pages of child care instructions. Although Song already felt very comfortable leaving her son with his grandparents, penning such detailed directions helped alleviate some worry.
Song’s mom still teases her about the instruction manual she left behind, which covered everything from her son’s daily routine to the correct way to part his hair after a bath.
“It was the teacher in me writing plans for the substitute teacher,” Song jokingly explains.
Kids reap benefits, too
Parents are not the only ones to benefit from adult-only getaways, several local moms pointed out.
“Honestly, the trips aren’t just for my husband Dave and me – for our relationship – but I also think it’s great for the relationship of the children with their caretakers,” says Maria Dismondy, an author, parent educator and Novi mom of three. “Being alone with their grandparents for a couple days has been a really great thing for them.”
In addition to taking couples-only solo vacations, once a year Dismondy leaves her husband and children for a short girls’ weekend away. She’s been doing it for the last couple of years and says it’s a great way for her husband and children to bond.
“It’s really great because Dave can be in charge and solo parent, which doesn’t happen often so it’s good for him and it strengthens his relationship with the children too,” she says.
Bloomfield Hills mom of three Jennifer Fishkind, a travel junkie and blogger who often writes about travel on her website Princess Pinky Girl, took her first of many childless trips with her husband Adam when their oldest was just a few months old. He is now 19.
“Every time I leave it’s hard to do. It doesn’t matter if I’m traveling for work or it’s just my husband and I,” Fishkind says. “But I know it’s good for everyone. It gives my husband and I time to focus on us. Our kids are independent and it’s great for the grandparents to have that time with their grandchildren.”
Jodi Feld of Bloomfield Hills agrees. Each year, she and her husband leave their kids with the grandparents to take a trip. They started when their son was 1, and he’s now 9.
“I find that my children are more appreciative and, after I return, I am more patient,” she says. “I think it also gives my kids a sense of independence and security to know they can be away from us and still feel safe, loved and cared for.”
How to ease the worry
In addition to leaving extremely detailed lists for caregivers, these traveling moms offered some suggestions to make childless solo vacations successful and stress-free for everyone. Their tips included enlisting the help of nearby family and friends to ease the load of the primary caregiver by scheduling play dates and pre-arranging carpools.
They also suggested preparing your children for your departure by talking about all the fun they are going to have while mom and dad are gone. Making a calendar also helps, so kids can check off the number of days until your departure as well as when you will return home. And most importantly – at least from your child’s perspective – be sure to come home with a few souvenirs.
Burstyn, who traveled solo to Australia, recalls bringing five new books to read on the plane because it was a rare opportunity to spend more than 20 hours just sitting and relaxing.
“It was the best two weeks of my life. Is it horrible to say that? Probably,” she says. “I also felt on the way back like ‘I can handle anything. I really needed that. I can’t wait to see my family again.'”
A ‘win-win’ for all
As a parent, I understand the hesitancy to leave and try one of these solo vacations. My husband and I had never been away from our children for more than a weekend and even that was a nervous trip to Chicago for a family event that did not include kids. Prior to that, our biggest overnight outings were a few quick trips downtown to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.
Last year, when our long-time babysitter announced that after graduation she was moving out of state to accept a job offer, we realized it was probably our best opportunity to take the adult-only vacation we had always dreamed about. We knew that once the sitter who helped raise our kids moved, it would be hard to find someone we completely trusted to stay with our three kids for an extended period of time.
As I booked our hotel and flight reservations for a nine-day vacation to Italy, I frequently questioned my sanity in making plans to travel so far away and for so long as I kept trying to remind myself of the importance of a couple’s getaway. Plus … we were going to Italy.
The stress ‘disappears’
Like other traveling moms, I left a detailed schedule for my sitter and parents who would also be helping out by shuttling our kids to activities and events and spending a considerable amount of time with them as well. And, just to make sure this information didn’t get lost, I emailed and printed a few (like five) hard copies. I also included a consent to obtain medical treatment in case of an emergency. Leaving such extensive instructions also helped me feel better about leaving.
It wasn’t until our flight left the ground that I suddenly felt the stress of parenting disappear, realizing it was now out of our hands. We could temporarily say goodbye to the daily responsibilities involved in our roles as a mom and dad. That was something that hadn’t happened in 12 years.
Kim Levy of Novi, who’s taken solo vacations with her husband without the kids for three years now, puts it this way: “It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. I used to feel guilty, maybe because they were smaller.”
She adds, “Taking a break from the daily grind and exploring new locations together has been transformational. The kids complain that it’s not fair that we get to go somewhere without them, but I think it’s important for them to see us putting our relationship first, too.”
Zero boredom complaints
For nine magnificent days we got to wake up when we wanted, pick restaurants that didn’t have kids’ menus and visit museums without listening to complaints of boredom or requests to visit the gift shop. Plus, we had a ton of uninterrupted adult conversations that weren’t just about our children.
Beyond the perks of strengthening our relationship, as the result of these solo vacations, kids’ confidence increased as they learned to adapt to change and realize that they could actually survive without us being around. Plus, they got to eat a lot more pizza, ice cream and candy, hang out with their favorite babysitter and their grandparents and probably stay up later than usual, too. I consider that a win-win for all.
Illustration by Fan Wu