How Important is Time Away from Your Child?

As our toddlers played together at the train table in our neighborhood’s coffee shop, another mother and I were talking about summer vacation plans. She was sharing details about a spectacular 10-day  vacation she and her husband took to a resort in Central America last fall. Instantly, my daydreams ferried me to the shade of swaying palms, where I sat on a picnic blanket sharing sweet drinks made from local fruit with my husband and our tyke, adorably clad in a bucket sunhat and buttered up with sunblock.  My husband and I traveled a good amount before we welcomed our son into our lives, and we often talk about what kind of trips we want to take with him when he’s old enough to have fun memories of family travel.

Photo credit: mmsea (Flickr Creative Commons)

I turned to my coffee-swigging mama acquaintance and replied, “I love your sense of adventure–packing up your little one and trekking out of the country like that!” Questions about the logistics of international travel were bubbling up in my brain–infant passport? lengthy air travel? vaccines?–but before I could ask, she responded, “Oh, we didn’t take her. She stayed with grandma.”

Wait, whaaaa?  I quickly did the math, realizing that her daughter was 9 or 10 months old at the time of her parents’ tropical trek out of the country.   Ten whole days? Outside of the country? Without their babe? But…why? How?  I hoped my face belied my shock and confusion. I thought back to my son at that age. In the span of a week around that stage, my son took his first steps. He was nursing every 3 hours or so.  I couldn’t imagine being away from him for one night at that age, let alone a solid week and a half. My chest tightened at the thought. The mama went on to say that it was, indeed, a bit hard being away from her daughter at first, but she and her husband relaxed into their vacation and had a stellar time. Her daughter had a great time bonding with grandma, too, she said, adding with a laugh that her daughter didn’t want to leave grandma’s  when it was time to come home.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left my son in the care of someone else while my husband and I went out. Our friends’ rehearsal dinner; a fancy dinner out and a movie as an early wedding anniversary celebration; and just this past weekend when my husband and I went out to see a late movie. Sprinkled amongst these big events and date nights are the random long solo walks for coffee or a child-free errand jaunt, but seldom has it been, in these almost 18 months, that we’ve gone out without our son.

I’m not judging, complaining or glorifying. It’s what it is: we simply do not feel the need to go out often without him. We’ve never felt the desire to travel without him (in fact, we’d hate that). The first ten years of our marriage were filled with travel (domestic and international), parties with friends,  expensive meals out, and regular concerts and shows. We enjoyed our share of excess. We waited a long time to become parents, and, right now, we simply want to just be with our son.

We have felt pressure from others, though: You guys should go out more! You need time to yourselves!  Don’t feel guilty for going out without him! You’re more than parents, you know! It’s healthy and necessary for your child to develop relationships with other adults!  It’s good for your child to see that you have a social life! The implications and undertones of these kind of statements are irritating at best. We’re not helicoptering. We’re not sheltering. We’re not excluding other adults from our son’s life. Dudes, we just like the company of our kid.  Sue us.

When I do go out, I don’t feel guilty for going out without my kid. But, sometimes, other people make me feel guilty for NOT wanting to go out more without him.  Am I somehow neglecting a part of myself or my marriage by not going out more? I do wonder, but I always come to the same conclusion: nope.

A couple of weekends ago, after I had a particularly trying week at home with my toddler,  my husband took him to a festival in the park, and I took a long shower by myself, blow-dried my hair (a very rare occurrence in my motherhood), put on a cute skirt, grabbed the just-delivered issue of Food & Wine, walked to our other neighborhood coffee shop (the one without a kids’ area), ordered a very large iced Americano, propped my feet up on the shady patio, and read my magazine cover to cover. It was a glorious couple of hours, just what I needed to recharge.

It was enough for me.

What about you?  How often do you spend time away from your child? Would you ever go/have you ever gone on a long vacation without your little one? Has anyone ever made you feel guilty for spending too little or too much time away?

One of Rhianna’s all-time fave vacations was a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway with her husband. She gets lost in daydreams about making the same trip with little ones buckled in the backseat. She faithfully renews her subscription to Budget Travel magazine every year.

23 thoughts on “How Important is Time Away from Your Child?

    1. Yep! And I feel like there will be lots of time in the future for those kinds of things again, you know? Thanks for stopping by!

  1. Lovely post, Rhi. I can totally relate and I know for me, my time away from K is by necessity, not by choice. I don’t feel the need to leave her behind at any point and actually enjoy her company. Apparently we are not normal 🙂

    1. Mic! In a comment just a moment ago elsewhere I just referenced my friend (ahem, you!) who often has to travel for work, and how it kills my friend to be away from her daughter during those stretches. When the circumstances are beyond your control, it just makes the time away that much more anxiety-provoking and difficult. Argh.

      And, well, some might say there is a lot about us that is simply not normal.:)

  2. I completely agree with you Rhianna! I’m not quite sure when we would ever be ready to go on a solo vacation. Honestly, it will probably be a very, very long time. And that’s ok with us. I know some people might think it’s cheesy to “enjoy your child’s company,” but we really do! I look forward to all the adventures we’ll share with our daughter over the years, and I can’t wait to show her all of mommy and daddy’s favorite places and experiences. And like you, all it takes for me to recharge is a slight change of scenery for a few hours and a little treat. Amen to coffee and magazines!

    1. Hey, Kate! I’m sure there will come a time in the future (er, perhaps the distant future) that my husband and I will be interested in a solo vacation, but it’s definitely not for us right now. I’m more open/interested in the idea of bringing along a grandparent or an auntie on vacation, and then perhaps having them babysit for a dinner out or something. We’ll see! Thinking about future family trips is so exciting!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this. I have a little girl who will be 1 next month. I have only left her twice with her grandma for dinners out and then I try and go to yoga once a week while daddy watches her. I keep getting nudges from family members that I should be going out more or that it is important to go out more. I just truly don’t feel the need. My yoga class does the trick for me. My girl is a mammas girl and has a hard time if I leave her and I really just want to respect her needs. I also just really like spending time with her. I find the comments hard. I feel like people act like its my fault that she is so attached to me. I first off think it is healthy to have a strong attachment to your parents and also just think it is her temperament.
    Thank you for posting this. Makes me feel like I am not the only one who just wants to be with her baby.

    1. That whole issue of honoring needs and listening to your little one is central to this for me. My son still doesn’t sleep through the night, and most of the time needs to nurse to soothe back to sleep. There are times when my husband tries to soothe him (and times when I try not nurse him) and it’s a huge FAIL. I just can’t imagine him going through that in the care of someone other than one of us. The times we’ve gone out we’ve left our son with his grandparents (who are awesome, loving and highly capable), and while I trust that they would be sensitive and responsive to him, I just can’t bear the thought of him waking, wanting to nurse, and then crying miserably because I’m not there. So, for us, long days away and overnights just don’t feel practical. I, too, just want to respect where my son is at this point in his development.

  4. Totally feel the same way 🙂 my only baby boy is 5 months today…he hasn’t stayed a swcond without mommy or daddy. I don’t know when i will be ready for a “babysitter” but then again i wouldn’t rather be anywhere else on earth than right here. We plan to take him camping in a few weeks and we rented a cottage later ths summer 🙂 thanks for posting….reminds me to just nod and keep following my own instincts as others tell me ” i need to get out more” 🙂

    1. A camping trip avec bebe sounds fun! Hope you guys have a great time! And, yes, I agree–we should all listen to our instincts more. Such a challenge sometimes, but, for me, always worth it in the end.

  5. I could have written the exact same thing! Our children and two and five, and so far we have elft them overnight on two occassions, both times for our wedding anniversary. I am sure as they get older they will spend longer with Grannie, maybe a whole weekend, maybe even a week, but not just yet – neither us or the children see any need for it – we love being together as a family.

    1. Same here. I have no doubt that there will come a time when my husband and I will want a solo overnight away or even a long day trip out. I whole-heartedly feel that something like that will be fun and memorable for us…eventually.

  6. Another weirdo over here! I have left my babe two evenings in 22 months, in his father’s company – I went to the theatre with a friend and to a Sting concert. I had a great time both times, but I could not wait to get home soon enough.
    Both my husband and I love being with our son. Loads of friends and relatives “encourage” us to find a childminder and go spend time by ourselves. Why?! Just why?! Because THEY think it’s healthy? I couldn’t care less what they think, I didn’t before I had George, I sure as heck won’t pay any attention to that crapola now.
    We spend quality time together, with the baby and after the baby goes to sleep (no longer a baby though, quite the teenage toddler over here…). At this point in our lives we would rather spend time at home, not travelling, although we did that and it was just fine. We are fine, we are close, we are in love and we don’t need to conform to anyone else’s idea of parenthood. There. Stepping off my soapbox. 🙂

    1. Hey, Mina! I feel like those times my husband and I share after the babe goes to bed fill our current togetherness needs. I remember when I was pregnant and we would have these joking conversations like, “Okay, this is the laaast time we’re going to be able to see two movies back-to-back in the theater.” and “Alright, this is the laaast time we’re going to spend an entire Saturday in the bed, eating takeout and watching an entire Netflix marathon of Dexter!” What’s funny is that I don’t really miss those things now. I think of those memories very fondly, of course, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out. I’m just so happy to have this family of mine, and I know you understand that. 😉

  7. We (well, mostly me) are starting to get the not-so-subtle hints that we *need* go away for a few nights. That “it’s time”. And I just do not understand that. It is not “time” for me. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be with your very small child – to take him with us everywhere we go. It is perfectly normal. I resent the implication that I “need” to get over myself and “trust” someone else to take care of him. That is so far from the issue! I do not want to be away from him at this time in our lives together. And I really don’t care if the would-be babysitters don’t like it. That is more about them than it is about me. I am very happy being with him 24/7. Living my dream! 🙂

    1. That whole notion that you don’t want to go out because you don’t trust a would-be caregiver enough? Seriously chaffing in all its wrongness. Argh. Since our move, I have fab, very local in-laws now, and I trust them implicitly to care for my son. No reservations about their ability to love and attend to his needs, other than, you know, I will miss my baby FEROCIOUSLY. I’m just not there yet.
      p.s. Living the dream, indeed.

  8. The only night I have spent away from my five year old son was when in hospital giving birth to his sister. I recall spending a lot of the labour hoping he was ok! I have never spent a night away from his sister, who’s now three. We do get a babysitter from time to time to go out to a concert or meal out. But they’re often asleep before we leave. I wouldn’t have it any other way, though I suspect my husband doesn’t always feel the same. But then, he travels a lot for work and has grown used to it. So thankful I have the option to stay with them. When we do travel abroad on holiday we take them with us. Our son came to Rome with us when he was nine months old. They are now seasoned travellers and a joy to travel with!

  9. My feelings exactly! I never left my daughter in the evening before she was one year old, and only very rarely during the day since I’m a stay-at-home mom. When she was 9 months old she would go to our neighbor across the street for 1 hour each week to play with the children there (she was still a daycare mom at the time) and every now and again my husband would take her shopping or I would go shopping in between nursings. After she had turned one I went to a Prince concert and my husband stayed home with her and gave her some cow’s milk in a bottle (since I never pumped my breasts weren’t used to it, which was one more reason to wait until she was one before leaving her with her daddy in the evening. My son is now almost 14 months and I have never yet left him with anyone during the day (our neighbor has retired and he has his sister to play with) and I couldn’t yet leave him in the evening or night as he still needs to be nursed to sleep and wakes up very often.

    And yes, people seem to think it’s weird, you’re locking yourself away and you’re missing out on things… I don’t think so. Our daughter was born on our 16th anniversary, so we’ve had 16 years to go to the movies, concerts, etc. We do still go to restaurants, but for lunch, with the children ;-).

  10. We have a 4 year old and an 18 month old. We have had the occasional weekend away…very occasional! But we would like to have our own vacation sometimes. And we have a date night once a month; the kids spend time with Mimi. But I think there’s no right or wrong way. Every family has to figure out what works best for them. You all had 10 years to travel and be alone. That’s wonderful! We had our daughter when we’d barely been married 2 years. So we feel it’s important to have time alone to reconnect. I don’t think you should feel bad for feeling the way you do. And I don’t think others that need or want more alone time should feel bad either. We’re all doing the best we can. 🙂 Great post.

  11. Great post, I agree, although we happen to be some of those “adventurous” types! When my husband or I need to travel, we all go. Just a few months ago, we went to Germany with our 2 year old! It wasn’t bad at all. You can still keep your traveling and sense of adventure while bringing them along. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that my husband had for work, and we shared such exciting times with our son in tow! It’s not as scary as it may seem at first. He has been on 18 plane flights thus far and counting. It’s cheap, too when they are under 2. I am due with #2 in a few months, so we’ll see if we keep up the traveling! LOL! Be encouraged, there are lots of us out there who desire to spend time with our children and not without. 🙂

  12. Great post and encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing and not feel weird or feel like I should adapt to a text book mom. My daughter is my little buddy (she’s 9m) and I love doing everything with her! I have to be away from her 3 hours a day for work and its so hard, but i love coming home to her smiling face! Why not experience life with your kids?! 🙂 makes life so much better!

  13. We get those same comments, almost word for word! My daughter is just shy of a year and we’ve been on exactly three dates without her. I will admit that I wish we did date night a little more often, but other than that, we most love being with her. We both work full-time, so we like to maximize the time we do have together. It’s crazy. I had no idea that I’d want to spend so much time with my child back when I didn’t have kids! 🙂

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