Family · Self Care

A new chapter in parenting

It’s been a long time coming. We hadn’t been away from the house for more than several of hours, much less an overnight. For a long stretch, maybe 5 or 6 years, we have had so many reasons to stay home. Kids, anxious pets, viral pandemic – they all gave us more than enough pause to do anything that was just the two of us.

My husband and I really love each other. Even more, we really like each other and crave our together time. In our “adultingness,” (I say that’s a word) we also understand that when you are responsible parents, you sometimes have to give up your together time as a solo couple to make sure all of the cogs in your family machine run smoothly. Since we never wanted to feel responsible for gumming up the works we’ve always done everything in our power and mental capacity to lay a solid foundation upon which our family unit could thrive. Sadly, that meant temporarily setting aside that part of us that we had enjoyed before pets and kids, before house, career and other big-time responsibilities came into the equation. It was fine, because we gladly chose to build a life together that was bigger than just the two of us. We always banked on the fact that someday, we’d get the space to play again.

Of late, I’d certainly been restless about finding that space where we could carve out time to be just the two of us. My less-than-patient self has craved the romantic notions that we had been shelving over the years. I admit to a bit of jealousy when I’d see people posting their big vacation photos, bristling at the thought of other couples enjoying long walks on the beach. It’s not the most attractive admission, but I fancy that bit of fantasy for myself. I know that most people who do the parent portion of adulting know as well as I do just how difficult it is to get away, even for a long weekend. I’m sure there are many couples who are in the same space we are. The machinations you have to go through just to walk out the door, just to make you feel okay about walking out the door – well, sometimes it takes more mental energy than is available to you in that moment. Most times, save for the pandemic, we just never felt like it was appropriate for us to pack ourselves up and leave everything else we love behind.

I remember loving our family vacations together. My husband and I, with our two adorable cherubs in tow – we did Disney and the beach and lots of fun things together. We have the pictures to prove it. But as any parent of teenagers knows, things get more…complicated…when they get older. As our family vacations waned, we’d tell ourselves “maybe next year,” because personal circumstances got in the way of any plans we might have wanted to make. The issue wasn’t even that we were worried about house parties in our absence – that’s not who our kids are. In fact, part of the challenge of going away as a family stemmed from the social anxiety that festered in their brains as they moved into adolescence. The last thing we wanted to do was make their emotional situations worse by insisting we go on family vacations where they might be miserable. Home was a much more comfortable place for everyone, so home we stayed.

Then, on top of all that, you throw a little pandemic soup in there to make everyone feel more comfortable in isolation than in braving the viral load. Staying home became not just the norm, but was a necessity. It’s hard to believe how we spent the better part of a year-and-a-half afraid to engage in social activity. It was almost giving validation to the idea that staying home was the better part of valor. During that time, my burning desire to get away quelled, and I stopped giving it much thought, in deference to finding things to do at home during our forced staycation.

As we started to emerge from the pandemic, our teenagers started to emerge from the torture chamber that is often the hallmark of adolescence. At the same time, our 25th wedding anniversary was fast approaching. Something in me said that it was time to start thinking about getting away again. Neither one of us wanted a big party or massive celebration. All we really wanted was to take a little trip for a couple of days, just the two of us. I can’t say we needed to rekindle anything, because I never felt like we had lost anything, except maybe the opportunity to enjoy each other a little more closely and intensely. One night at dinner, I made an announcement – Mom and Dad would be going away for a long weekend and the kids would be in charge of managing the house. This was going to happen, and everyone needed to start mentally preparing for this eventuality. It was a little abrupt, but the message was received.

We finally did it – we committed to the notion that now is the time. We sat down at the computer and planned our little “mental health” escape at a resort about an hour away, with all the amenities and activities we were looking for. In my mind, I was in awe that we would finally be able to follow through on the thing we had wanted to do for such a long time. For years, vacationing was something that other people got to do. Now, it was our turn.

Not that we didn’t hesitate; we did. There were a few moments in the days leading up to our departure that made us think maybe we should scrap the whole thing and wait some more. One daughter locked the cat out of her bedroom because he was meowing too much for his breakfast, leaving him vulnerable to the dopey dog who constantly forgets that the cat isn’t some stray that needs to be attacked. The other was having a bit of an emotional crisis relating to school stress, where things were piling up. Unfortunately, our past experience had been that the little things turn into bigger things very quickly, often escalating into some more dire situation that requires our undivided and prolonged attention. Fortunately, that experience has become fewer and further between, so we realized it was time to trust that the kids would make the right choices in their responsibilities as co-house managers.  

This is a tough decision to make – trusting that the kids have the tools necessary to consistently do the right thing. While we try not to be the stereotypical helicopter parents, we do have a significant hand in easing our kids into discovering their roles and responsibilities that will lead to more independent living. Leaving our teenagers to manage the house, the pets, and their lives without us was a pretty huge deal. We never felt it was the right time to walk away from the daily grind, so we stayed close by – until now.

The question for parents of teenagers has always been, “when is it okay to step away?” This whole time, we had been waiting. Wait for a “better” time, a “better” circumstance. Wait for the kids to be a little older so we could feel more comfortable leaving them alone. Wait because our anxious pup would miss us, not understanding that we were actually coming back to him. Wait because “what if” something happens and they really need us?

So many reasons.

We knew that, despite the myriad mental obstacles that could easily have torched our together time, we had to put in place whatever we needed to and just go. This was the right time. To be completely honest, I don’t think parents ever feel completely okay about walking away. We will always have the lingering paranoia of “what if?” At the same time, we had to give ourselves the permission to let go a little and hand over the reins. Over the years, we put the work in to make sure everything was as set up as thoroughly as possible so that our kids’ lives don’t seem to change that much when we step away. They have proven themselves to be consistently responsible in school, and while laziness often takes over in their house-care attitudes, they have shown that they are capable of taking care of the pets, feeding themselves, and taking care of necessities. We finally decided, that the worst that should happen is that they’d miss us, because they knew how to keep themselves, the pets and our house safe. In the event of an emergency, family was within 10 minutes and we could be home in a matter of hours.

So, we stepped away. We made sure the fridge was full, packed the car, gave them a list of things to remember (went over it multiple times), and gave them long, squeezy hugs. We pulled out of the driveway with mixed emotions, but mostly excitement that we’d finally have our long-awaited rendezvous together.

Long story short, it was exactly the getaway I was hoping for. We did what we wanted to, when we wanted to. We acted like adults on vacation – ate too much, drank too much (me, not him), and slept late. We soaked in the heated outdoor pool and talked for hours. Throughout the entire weekend, we reminisced about the past 33 years, which is how long we’ve actually been a couple, and spent quality time with our best friend.

Our inner Monet emanated from our paint brushes to create these lovely paintings at the paint and sip event. I think I’ll call them Bluebird on Birch. I will add that there was a bottle of wine consumed between the both of us. He doesn’t drink. Notice how I am leaning slightly…

On the way back, we stopped at a farm stand and picked up all sorts of seasonal goodies for the family to enjoy. The kids and pets were happy to see us, and we thanked them all for pitching in to allow Mom and Dad a little time to play. Now, we are “back to normal” (whatever that is) and we can look back at our 25th wedding anniversary as a soaring success. It seemed to be a bit of a “moving up” ceremony in our parenting journey. I’m proud of all of us. Patience seems to have paid off, enabling a new chapter of “adultingness” to be scribed.

3 thoughts on “A new chapter in parenting

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