Written by Anna Osborn, LMFT, owner of Life Unscripted Counseling
We have some pretty big travel plans this summer. We’re embarking on an 1800-mile travel trailer caravan for 10 days with my siblings and their families, my parents and my aunt and uncle. And if we can come out of it all still liking each other, I’m going to call it a success.
My husband has been dreaming of a cross country family road trip for years, and our kids are at the age where we think they may enjoy…and actually remember it. We both have memories of summer road trips and are looking forward to an adventure with our whole family. Personally, I’m also a bit nervous. That’s A LOT of time in the car with A LOT of open road. But what could go wrong, right? Right?
Every year when that chatter starts with friends and family about summer plans there’s always a person, or two, who tells me about the “vacation” they’re going on with their children and partner—and how they’re a bit overwhelmed about the whole idea. It’s at that moment that I’m likely to softly say, “that sounds like a family trip, not a vacation.” I don’t say in a snarky way, just a gentle information offering sort of way.
You see there is actually a huge difference between a family trip and a vacation. Do not, I repeat…do not confuse the two. A family trip is when the family embarks on an adventure together. A vacation is when the two of you, yes you and partner, take some time away...overnight…just the two of you. It doesn’t matter if it’s one night away or a handful; it’s still a vacation.
As fun as family trips can be, they’re still a ton of work. And we all know it. When kids are involved, no matter how wonderful and well-behaved they are, there is still a schedule that must be loosely kept, meal preparation/planning (that has to be thought of) and a fair amount of refereeing over squabbling and unrest among the kids.
I’m not here to advocate leaving your children out or having the time of your lives while they’re at home missing you. But what I am advocating for is the two of you taking time away to reinforce the foundation of your marriage. Without a strong base with each other, there is no marriage to speak of.
Never before have we lived in a time that has turned family structure on its ear as we do now. From an anthropological perspective, the family structure has changed in such a dramatic way that our children and the raising of them has made the kids the center of the couple’s world and I don’t know if it’s all for the best.
I’m not here to say that children aren’t great. Heck, I adore mine. But the point is you cannot invest in your marriage in all the necessary ways if you’re burnt out, stressed out, and stretched thin.
I hear so many couples talking about never being away from their children and using it as a badge of honor, as they’re slowly starting to twitch right in front of you. They’ve never allowed themselves a moment away together and it’s slowly tearing them apart.
I reject the notion that you’re only a good parent if you’re sitting there riddled with guilt and waiting in anticipation to meet every need your child may have. Of course, you want them to succeed, of course you want them to feel loved; I do too. But if you’re not working together in your partnership to prioritize the two of you, you run the risk of that relationship becoming permanently fractured.
If I had a dollar for every person that gave me a side glance when I admit that my husband and I sneak away a couple times of year, just the two of us, I’d be able to pay for my next weekend get-away. Some people grimace, look down their nose at me and say, “wow, how can you even do that?” Well the truth is, it’s not easy. It takes preparation, planning, list making, and arranging childcare to juggle everything—but, you know it’s totally worth it. It’s worth it to have an uninterrupted meal that doesn’t end with spilt milk or a small child trying to gag down their broccoli. It’s worth it to enjoy real soul connecting conversation. It’s worth it to know that we’re modeling to our kids that they’re so important to us that we simply need to take some time away for just the two of us. And it’s worth it to see their sweet little faces when we get home and realize that not only did we all survive, but we’re much more appreciative of each other because of it.
So how do you plan a vacation?
First, you have to check your mindset. Do you struggle with the guilt of being away from your kiddos and feel downright selfish for the idea of doing just that? Are you scared what your kids will do when you’re away and how all the plates you keep in the air (metaphorically) will topple to the ground? Are you worried about what your friend group will think if you tell them you and your spouse are going to sneak away for a few days? Do you think that a vacation sounds great, but who really has time for that?
Well, you need to check your mindset and be aware of the mental blocks that are preventing you from moving into action (and planning). You need to be aware of these, so you can begin to work through and remove them as obstacles to following through on time away.
Next, start small. Don’t plan a 10-day Caribbean vacation your first trip out. Start with a staycation at a hotel for one night. Yes, it’s stressful to be away from the kids AND it’s worth it. Test it out a bit to gain more confidence, to see it’s not only doable but beneficial.
Lastly, see the benefits. Is it hard to leave your kids? Yes! Nevertheless, you will see the benefits, now and in the future, and how it will feed your marriage when you follow through and steal some time away. However, if all you’re focusing on is the negative “what if’s” then you’ll talk yourself out of it before you even pack your toothbrush.
Now’s the time. Take the leap and see how your marriage begins to thrive because you’ve allowed it the gift of a real vacation.
Anna Osborn, LMFT, is the owner of Life Unscripted Counseling. She works with couples to improve communication, deepen intimacy and heal from betrayal. Anna was born and raised in California and lives in the Elk Grove with her husband, school aged twins and boxer dog. She is an avid sports fan and can often be found at the ballpark cheering on her local team.
This story first appeared in Ardent
for Life Summer 2019 issue.