A Tale of the Emotional Stages of Kid-less Vacationing
It starts out as a dream. A dream of drinking your coffee hot and getting in and out of the car as many times as you need. A glorious dream about a change of pace… reconnecting with yourself and with your relationship. It starts out as excitement and wondrous anticipation. Your self-talk (and talk to others) highlights the thrills of a kid-less vacation and narrows in on the confidence of needing time “to ourselves”.
This is the excitement stage. It lasts until approximately a few weeks to a month before you leave.
The excitement starts to become moderated by guilt and uncertainty as the date of kid-less-ness approaches. The guilt comes in waves (often depending on the moods and latest chaos of your children). Despite knowing that they will be cared for and loved while you are away there is an uncertainty if they are ready for that. If they can fully survive without you. When a piece of your heart lives outside you, as it does when you have children, you are always cautious of their readiness and safety. The guilt is heavy. You rely on self-talk, the envy of others, and the awareness that you are likely making a larger deal of the whole thing than you need to. You shift from crazy momma bear to wild woman and back again. The emotional struggle is real.
This is the stage of guilt. It never fully goes away once it sets in but it lifts from time to time.
The dream is happening. The bags are overpacked and the kids got quickly kissed goodbye. You cried a little. You reassured yourself. You seeked reassurance. There is an ease that settles in when there is no turning back. An acceptance in your planning and decision making. The excitement resurfaces albeit slightly different than before. You feel confident that your little tykes are resilient and safe. Your worry wanders over to them being too spoiled and over entertained.
This the stage of acceptance. A commitment to fully enjoying the experience. A sigh and a smile.
What if they thrive? What if they do not miss me in the slightest? The guilt resurfaces. This time (after knowing for a few days that things are going just fine without you at home) the guilt feels more generalized. If they do not miss me is that a reflection on my parenting? Am I a good mother? If they do not miss me then I am doing something wrong (or is it something right?)? These reflections leave you in an emotional heap in your sunburnt body on the couch with eyes full of tears. You retreat to the bathroom to ugly cry for a moment before pulling yourself together and making a plan to persevere, beverage in hand.
This is the stage of uncertainly and evaluation. You feel slightly crazy. Blame it on the hormones and wild love.
Readiness. There is a point in your adventure that you desperately miss your children. You miss them in all their chaotic glory. You are sad that they are not experiencing the adventure with you. You would have them Fed-Ex’ed if that was possible and safe (and sane). The uncertainty continues and you daydream about what seeing them is going to feel like. You emotionally prep for their potential disinterest. You prepare yourself for them to look taller, or act older, or have changed somehow (as if leaving for 10 days has sped up time). Your whole body misses them. You can feel it. It hurts.
This is the stage of readiness. One more Mai-Tai would not make you any more fulfilled. You are exhausted and relaxed(ish) and ready to reconnect with the part of you that didn't get on that plane.
Reconnection. The moment you have been anticipating arrives and it is mostly glorious. You feel relief as you hug your kids and have them back again in your arms. They missed you (not terribly) and you hear the endless stories about their at-home adventures. They wait to see what treasures you brought home with you. You jump back into parenting with two feet in. The glory of the vacation fades quickly but there is something about the chaotic comfort of home that feels good as it surrounds you.
The stage of reconnection. You might make passing glances at your partner and signal about retreating to your island paradise, but jokes aside... this is your chaos, your wild tribe, and you are home.
My stage of reconnection was different than I imagined. I imagined my 4 year old wanting to stay at the wonderland he calls grandma and grandpa’s. I imagined my baby reaching and smiling as he saw me and wanting to snuggle and nurse. This is not what happened. My big kid was stoked to see us and greeted us wildly. My sweet little baby seemed to want nothing to do with me. I cried. Guilt, confusion, and devastation found their place tear after tear. I desperately tried to reconnect. My little baby grew while I was away. He needed me differently now and I was not prepared for that. I felt lost that day. Bed time felt different.. it WAS different. I sat there pumping my milk while he slept, feeling disconnected and grieving. I knew that he was done with nursing. I didn't even remember the last time we shared that bond. It was sometime in the morning before I left for our trip. I didn't pay attention like I would have if it was our last. I am not having any more kids and I wanted to make special note of that bond during breastfeeding - to experience it one last time and tuck that memory somewhere special. I cried a few more times. With my oldest, I chose that ending. With my little guy - he did (or at least that's how I am going to understand it). He has replaced that pre-bedtime routine with the sweetest snuggle time. He scrunches into a ball and presses his head into my chest and hugs me tight with his little arms. He never did this before. He sits there as I rock him and sing twinkle twinkle. Sometimes this lasts a few moments and others it seems like he could stay there forever. My strong willed little mellow firecracker is CHOOSING to snuggle into his mommy. There is no food reward, no sweet taste of nourishment to keep him close - just his desire to adapt and create a new routine for us to share. That my love is parenting in a nutshell. Constant adaptation, growing, and reconnecting folded in with guilt and worry, excitement and dreaming.