I found myself surprisingly anxious before we left on our four-week trip to Europe. Maybe I had good reason: a 6-year-old, a 3-year-old, jet-lag, eating in restaurants, sleeping in strange beds, and no hope of a peanut butter sandwich anywhere.
Traveling with children rarely feels like a vacation. What to an adult looks like a plush hotel room feels unfamiliar and uncomfortable to kids. Even if you do manage to get them to sleep there, odds are good they'll be up before sunrise. Young kids, especially preschoolers, love routine and must therefore hate travel where everything is so different. But we weren't doing this trip for the kids, we were doing it for ourselves my husband and I would periodically remind each other.
This was a selfish trip. Yes, we took our kids to many playgrounds and even Lego Land in Windsor, but this trip wasn't fundamentally for them. If it were up them we would've just stayed home and visited the Lego store every few days.
I have no regrets about taking this completely selfish trip. We reconnected with old friends. We overindulged in delicious food and drinks. My husband and I reminisced endlessly. Our kids came along with us, and we tried to share things with them, but like all kids, their interest is random and therefore almost impossible to satisfy. The Tower of London was meh, the double decker bus was amazing. The Deutsches Museum (possibly the world's largest science museum) was OK but "the wave" on the Isar River where surfers practice was spellbinding.
There were tantrums in picturesque piazzas, there were many requests to "go back to Seattle," and there were two incidences where we had to physically remove them from restaurants; but for the most part the kids adapted well. Even though they complained, I think they did enjoy the trip, as did my husband and I. My only regret? Not being even more selfish.
Before we left, I told my husband that I thought it would be a good idea for us each to take some time to ourselves during the trip, to be able to go the more boring sites sans kids. He was genius enough to plan a date night for us in London's West End, complete with babysitter he found online, and I asked a friend to babysit one night for us while we were in Frankfurt so we could go wine tasting with friends, but other than that, we forgot to take time for ourselves until our last two days.
In fact it was the very last day of vacation that I relinquished some family time (a visit to yet another "dino museum") to go to City Beach, a rooftop beach bar in downtown Frankfurt.
It was heavenly. I ate lunch without worrying about anyone else's behavior. I ordered an outrageously priced raspberry mojito and finished my vacation read. The whole time I was thinking why didn't I do this sooner? After a few hours, Ryan and the kids joined me on the roof and I felt relaxed and happy to see them.
If I learned one thing on my summer vacation it's this: it's OK to be selfish. It's good to take time away from being a parent. Not everything needs to revolve around the kids all the time.
I'm hoping to be more selfish in the future. I've started by taking advantage of our preschool's parents night out this week to go on another date with my husband! (That's 3 in 5 weeks, look at us!) And right now I'm making my children do "quiet independent play time" in separate rooms. It's good for them and me.
Our current culture of paranoid perfectionist parenting, admitting to not centering my children's desires feels scary. But it also feels right that they learn they are not the center of the universe. By "taking turns" doing things I want to do, I'm teaching my kids to be considerate of my needs, just as I am considerate of theirs.