By Vivian Vassos
We love being with our kids. We really do. So much so that every vacation over the past seven years has been with them. We’ve ridden elephants in Thailand, snorkelled in the Cayman Islands and snacked on souvlaki in Greece with our kids, plus yearly jaunts to Florida — and not just to see Mickey Mouse.
Of course, we also take “date nights,” facilitated by my parents, whom I call the Blessed Support Unit (or BSU); grandparents who are eager and able to help out. It’s usually a once-a-month Saturday night sleepover at the BSU’s for the kids, and dinner and a movie and some take-the-phone-off-the-hook intimacy for us. But a real change of scenery for more than one night, just the two of us? We hadn’t done that since our 10th, yes, 10th wedding anniversary, and now our 17th was looming. Something was definitely missing.
“On a scale of one to 10, getting away for couple time is a 15-plus in importance,” says Marion Goertz, a registered marriage and family therapist in Toronto. “We all have so many roles to play, professionally and personally, that the spontaneous, playful parts of us can get lost and tired.”
“A regular date night is critical for any marriage, but getting away for longer periods is a unique and individual issue without an exact answer,” adds Elizabeth Pantley, parenting expert and the author of eight books, including the award-winning The No-Cry Discipline Solution (McGraw-Hill). When I caught up with the mother of four, she was fresh off a cruise with her hubby of 25 years, while their kids were safe and sound under grandma’s care. “Couples who find time to connect every day and with a regular date night may get on perfectly fine without a longer trip away. Others find themselves so surrounded by work, children and household tasks that they never seem to feel like a couple any more. Those people would definitely benefit from a short trip alone once or twice a year.” In her book, Kid Cooperation (New Harbinger), Pantley reinforces this. “It can be very difficult for your marriage to thrive if you spend all your time being “Mommy’ and “Daddy.’ You need to spend regular time as “Husband’ and “Wife.”
Okay, so it’s either another date night or try to get away for a longer time. What about the caregiver logistics? Even our BSU has its limitations, and I have quite a few friends who don’t even have that. “Even an overnight away can refresh and rejuvenate your relationship,” says Pantley. “This is often do-able if you are close with another couple who have children. Trading off and tending to each other’s children can be fun for the kids and good for the adults.”
Goertz takes it a step further. “Getting away is like getting a lungful of oxygen at the surface of a teeming river that is our life as parents — sucking up some life-giving respite before we resume the everyday busy-ness of our lives,” she says. “A self-imposedÂ “time out’ can ensure good behaviour in adults. It can keep us going with more energy and creativity and keep us connected with the bigger world in order to refresh our perspectives.” Wow, perhaps that’s what was missing.
We knew that a week during the school year was out of the question, so we needed somewhere we could recharge and feel like we’d been away long enough, but not so long as to completely abuse the BSU? Hubby loves his monthly Texas Hold’em boys’ night out, while I’m a shopaholic, and we both appreciate fine cuisine. Put it together, and we came up with Las Vegas. Four days over a weekend, so the BSU didn’t have to worry too much about school and homework. Perfect.
The next step was telling the kids. “We’re going to Las Vegas,” I announced over dinner one night. My 10-year-old immediately went to pack her bag. “But only Mom and Dad are going,” I explained, feeling guilty already, and trying to figure out what to say next. “Parents can often overcompensate for what they feel guilty about,” says Pantley. “Know in your heart that taking care of your marriage is the most important thing you can do for your children and yourselves. A very simple answer is all that’s needed: “We love you very much and we have fun with you, but sometimes moms and dads like to have a little time alone together.”
When I retold the scenario for Goertz, she laughed. “Do your kids a favour. Love your spouse and let them see it! Talk about mom and dad having special time together and make it happen regularly. This can, in fact, help kids feel safe and warm, even if they giggle or roll their eyes.” Even teenagers, despite their reactions, she adds, take delight in their parents’ overt shows of affection and will more likely choose a relationship like it for themselves when it’s their turn.
New parents, this one’s for you: Goertz recommends beginning at an early age to establish increasing periods of time of separation with qualified caregivers. “Teach them, by your own attitudes and from an early age, to be open to adventure and new experiences,” she says.
“If you find a familiar, loving caregiver to tend your children, they should be fine,” says Pantley. “If you want to add more fun to their “vacation,’ allow them to order pizza, rent a movie or have a candy or treat that is reserved for special times.” For longer trips, she suggests leaving a small gift (such as stickers or plastic toy animals) for each night that you will be away. “This can make bedtime fun instead of the most difficult hour for the child and caregiver.”
Spend some time with the child in the caregiver’s presence, prior to your time away, suggests Goertz, to assess their suitability and to allow you and your child to be soothed by your trust in this person. “And relax and don’t unduly disrupt routines to soothe your own separation anxiety.” Then just go. “There’s a delightful, refreshing silliness that can set in when two responsible adults can eat, sleep, drink and frolic as the spirit moves them,” she notes.
Well, Goertz was right. We were free to do our favourite things and spend some wonderful private moments together, without the day-to-day stress of being parents, and the kids were spoiled rotten by the BSU. Heck, we even considered renewing our vows in the land of cheesy wedding chapels, never mind booking another trip for next year. Viva Las Vegas.
Toronto-based writer/editor Vivian Vassos is planning her next getaway to Vegas—this time with kids. She has already booked a date night with hubby at the MGM Grand, as her brother (BSU#2) now conveniently lives in Sin City.
Here are Marion Goertz’s tips for making the most of a moment
Hiring a babysitter so you can go out? Here’s a helpful babysitter checklist.