My husband and I recently celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary with a two week (kid-free) trip in gorgeous Southeast Asia. How does one, might you ask, leave three young kids at home and travel the world for fourteen days without feeling parent guilt or extreme sadness?
Well, it wasn’t always like this, but we’ve come a long way in ten years and have sort of figured out our secret sauce of marriage, parenting, child independence and happiness, which as you know is no easy task.
We had a busy first couple of years of marriage. We got pregnant on our honeymoon, which caught us quite by surprise, and two more kids followed quickly behind our first. We had three kids in 3 1/2 years and all by our fourth wedding anniversary. Life was quite crazy, to say the least, and my memory of that time really exists from photos and videos, although I can’t actually remember my last two kids’ first words (hangs head in shame).
While that time is still mostly a blur, what I can tell you is that I did learn a lot by having a lot of kids soon after getting married. By the second child, we had two kids under two, were still newlyweds, and we were drowning. We could barely make it through some days, and I just wanted to sleep for 15 years. Our relationship as husband and wife just wasn’t at the top of my priority list as I was hooked up to my hands-free breast pump, if you know what I mean. But, just after my second daughter was born, out of desperation I read the French parenting book named Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. Actually, that’s a lie. I was so incredibly sleep deprived that I couldn’t even manage to read it—I listened to the audio version in my car to keep myself awake while I shuffled my not-quite-two-year old to and from mommy and me class.
This book was the answer that I needed at that exact time. It spoke to me in a way that no other parenting book had. I know we all have different philosophies about parenting, which is totally fine. This is just my personal experience. What captivated me about this book was one simple thing: make yourself and your relationships outside of your children a priority. If you’re not happy, calm and confident, then your kids will have a hard time being those things as well.
While it’s been years since I actually read (or rather listened) to the book, there have been some key points I’ve always carried with me that have helped me tremendously through the past ten years:
Make your married relationship a priority. Ever since I read this book, we instituted a date night every Saturday night. We had a standing sitter every Saturday, and go out sans kids once a week. It forces us to go out and explore our city even when we don’t feel like getting out of our pajamas. Our kids don’t whine and complain that we are leaving them because we’ve been doing it for about eight years now, and at this point I think they actually look forward to us leaving! This helped us set the stage for taking longer, adult-only vacations or weekend trips a few times a year. Even if a once-a-week date night is unattainable or unrealistic, start with once a month at least. It will change you.
Don’t feel guilty about taking “you time.” Get that massage you’ve been wishing for, or the pedicure you’ve been putting off. Have a glass of wine. Don’t feel selfish or guilty for doing it either. Just relax. Care less. Not in the bad way, but in the good way of caring less—benign neglect. You need those tiny moments of stress-free time so that you can stockpile them for the craziness of the witching hour, dinner and bedtime.
Don’t hover like a helicopter parent. I’ve officially become that mom that let’s her kids wander a bit. I’m not exactly 100% free range, but I let my kids go farther down the beach than most people I know. I don’t run to them at the first sign of crying or screaming. Instead, I let them come to me. Sometimes they even work it out themselves without my intervening. I let them walk our dog down our street out of my line of sight. I’m trying to breed a little independence and self-reliance in them so they aren’t so needy. My kids now get dressed, put the lunches in their backpacks, AND make me coffee in my “to go” cup before heading out the door on school days. Seven years ago, I never though this would be possible. Hopefully, this will help them become independent and confident teens.
Show your children you have a life outside of being their mom. For me, it’s important for my kids to see that while they are loved and cherished, I do have other things that are important to me and make my world go round besides them—my career, the gym, adult friendships, my relationship with my husband, volunteering at school, etc. I like them to see us leading full and active lives that aren’t always centered around them. Because let’s face it, my eldest child leaves the nest in nine years, and I don’t want to be that mom that thinks, “Now what am I going to do with myself?” when she’s gone.
I’m sure I’m a few years “ahead” of some of you out there reading this, but I hope these little golden nuggets of advice might touch you in some way like they did me, and maybe a light bulb will just click on for you. You might be reading this post sleep deprived, or hooked up to your breast pump thinking, “There is no way that could EVER be me!” But I assure you, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You’ll make it out just fine if you make yourself the top priority.
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