I made it five days into my dream vacation before bursting into tears in the middle of the elevator in my hotel.
I was in London, giving myself the break everyone told me I needed — the break I’d wished for so many times. Finally, I could put down the weight on my shoulders that never goes away. No work. No responsibility.
And, most significantly of all, no kids.
I’d never been away from my kids for longer than a day. I’m a single dad, and they’re teenagers, so it was a long time coming.
And it was great… until it wasn’t.
In the lead up to my vacation, I realized something very important.
All this time, I’d worried about how my kids would do without me.
But as I got closer to my trip, I saw that they’d be just fine. It was me that would be struggling.
Prior to my trip to London, I’d never missed so much as one of my kids’ games. While away, I’d miss several. I’d also miss two important doctor’s visits, because as fate would have it, one of my daughters got hurt in a school basketball game the day before my flight overseas.
I felt like a terrible person and a terrible parent, and if I could have canceled the trip, I absolutely would have.
Ultimately, I didn’t cancel my trip. And I wish I could say everything magically took care of itself, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Unfortunately, that proved not to be the case.
The first weekend was the worst.
It was an overnight flight to Amsterdam, six hours from my New York home. Between the lack of sleep and the time change (not to mention, a rather enjoyable visit to an Amsterdam “coffee shop”), I barely knew what was going on where I was, let alone at home.
I fell asleep at 9 PM local time, which proved to be a good thing in a way — it acclimated me to the time change, and my extreme fatigue meant I didn’t feel any guilt about not FaceTiming my kids before bed.
The next day was a flight to Newcastle, which represented a bucket list item because I could watch my beloved Newcastle United play soccer in person.
It was a fantastic day, a literal dream come true, and it was everything I hoped it would be. But when I laid down in my hotel room at day’s end, I felt sad and alone.
I messaged my best friend and told her I felt like the worst parent alive, and I meant it.
I had this incredible experience, and I couldn’t share it with my kids — and worse, I was neglecting them in pursuit of my own selfish interests.
What kind of jerk flies off to Europe and leaves his sick mom and injured daughters to fend for themselves?
Meanwhile, at home, life went on without me.
My kids’ games came and went without incident. Their mom took them to their appointments, and they survived. They got to school, did their homework, and saw their friends.
Everything that happened would have happened whether I was home or half a world away.
After we got to London — and another time change, this time going to four hours apart thanks to daylight savings time — things got more normal, and we got on a better communication schedule.
And that’s when I realized the problem was with me.
I’ve always considered myself a very supportive parent. I’ve been there with my kids for everything — every school event, every game, every tough moment. And I’d prefer to believe that this was done with the best of intentions.
What I learned, though, was that this idea of being there for my kids had also taken on a somewhat uncomfortable sense of control. If I was there for everything, then I was part of all of their accomplishments.
And, by extension, I mattered to them.
So when I took a step back, and all those things I usually attend happened anyway, it made me question a lot of these seemingly altruistic choices I’ve made. Was I going to these events to support my kids, or to make myself feel important? Was I encouraging my kids, or was I preventing them from growing up on their own?
Even now that I’m back home, I still struggle with these questions.
Should you take a vacation without your kids?
Absolutely. If you can, of course.
Don’t go spending your mortgage payment on a trip to Cancun. But if you’ve got a few spare bucks and some PTO time from work, there are few better things you could do for yourself — and for your family.
I know that contradicts what I’ve said above. But bear with me.
First of all, you don’t need to go all the way over to London like I did.
I’d consider that my way of making up for the many times I didn’t put myself first (and paid a heavy price for it). A simple weekend getaway or a week’s jaunt is more than sufficient for what you’re trying to do.
And what is it you’re trying to do? Whatever *you* want.
Take your partner for a secluded romantic trip, savor the silence, and enjoy each other. Invite your brother on a road trip to a few baseball stadiums. Go on a solo hiking trip and take a break from the world. Whatever works for you.
And because this is your trip, you get a double boost — a break from the kids, plus something else really cool that you’ve been wanting to do.
Maybe that second part seems obvious, but how often do we spend time away from our kids staring at our phones, doing nothing with our free time?
This is a way to do something significant. Something you can be proud of. And, ideally, something you’ll be proud to tell your kids about, and that’s where they’ll benefit from all of this.
That’s because our kids need to see us be actual people too.
Do your kids need to know every single thing you do while you’re away? Of course not. But if you can show them that you’re doing something that matters to you, it reminds them that you have your own life outside of catering to their every need. That’s important.
Because your kids aren’t going to be little forever. They’re going to need to figure out their place in all of this. If you can show them that you have your own interests, it will encourage them to find what speaks to them as well.
And if you have younger kids? All the more reason to get away.
You’ve undoubtedly had plenty of people offer to watch your kids. Well, now is the time to cash in those favors. Once again, this has a two-pronged effect. It gives you a moment to breathe, while also letting someone special to you get a little time with your little bundles of joy. It takes a village, but we often forget that under the self-imposed pressure to be everywhere and do everything.
That, my friends, is the ultimate lesson to be learned from taking a vacation without your kids.
We all want to be there for our kids, and we run ourselves into the ground trying to be perfect. And that’s where this approach becomes problematic.
Without that break, we can’t be good to our kids, let alone to ourselves. We need that time to explore, to be by ourselves, to develop and move forward in our own unique ways.
By the same token, our kids need — and deserve — that same opportunity. Despite our best intentions in being involved parents, we can also be a bit too hovering at times. They need their space too. They need to be exposed to other people and other ideas. And by letting go just a little bit, we allow our kids to get what they need — and we get what we need too.
I learned all of this on the fly while overseas.
As my trip to London unfolded, my kids and I got into a nice communication rhythm, and that put me at ease. I’d FaceTime them when walking to the train to start my day, just when they’d be getting ready to school.
Then, in the evening, I’d FaceTime them again to say good night. In between, I’d send pictures to show them the sights I saw and the things I did. I wished them good luck with their games and asked them how they did.
And once we established that cadence, it wasn’t unmanageable at all for either side.
The vacation proved to be a transformative experience, for both myself and for my kids. I learned that while I do love to be at all their events, they don’t need me the way they once did.
Therefore, I can put less pressure on myself to be a perfect parent all the time — easier said than done, of course.
And I hope they learned that they’re capable of facing challenges on their own. I’d like to think they also learned that the house doesn’t clean themselves and that they need to actually do their chores, but the jury is still out on that one.
Two weeks before boarding a plane to London, I was informed that I was being promoted at work.
As part of the promotion, I’d have to spend two weeks in Wisconsin for training. Initially, I was reluctant to take the opportunity for a few reasons, which at their core all boiled down to self-doubt. Insecurity in my own abilities, and fear of leaving the kids for two weeks. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d have put my kids ahead of my own desires.
Having just done London, though, I know my kids can survive without me. Accordingly, I know I’ll survive without them. And so, I’m jumping at this job and taking this opportunity to better myself. I can’t promise I won’t cry in an elevator this time.
But I do know it’ll all be okay in the end.
This post was written by Dad Fixes Everything contributor Bryan B.
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