'I'm overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and dread.' The challenges of taking a child-free holiday.

My children often ask who I love most. Them? Their father? Their grandparents?

It’s a hard question to answer. "YOU!" is what I always tell them, but then they are shocked to hear that I could possibly love them more than I love my parents. In their ever-growing minds and worlds, their parents are at the very centre. It’s hard for them to understand that they may go on to love someone else more than they love us.

"What about Daddy?" they screech, giggling. "Do you love him more, or us more?"

The thing is, I never realised that I would one day be torn between my children and my husband. It never occurred to me while I was pregnant, or even in the early days of motherhood. I think it happened the first time my husband said he needed to get away, "Just the two of us".

Watch: The horoscopes at the airport. Story continues below.

Video via Mamamia.

I agreed that we desperately needed it. I too was raring to regain some of what felt like my lost self, or our lost selves in the case of our relationship. As all parents know, life with young children can easily fall into a constant procession of chores and logistics. Unless you really make the effort, relationships, sex, and quality time together often get thrown aside.


I’m not going to lie and pretend I was upset when COVID promptly put an end to our travel plans in July 2020. We had booked Europe – I can’t even remember where – a full year earlier. When the realisation of lockdown came into full effect, one of the first things I felt was enormous relief at not having to leave my children.

My husband needs time away from our children. He loves these children fiercely, a love that I feel sometimes goes beyond the love he has for me, but he desperately needs time for just the two of us. I love getting away too, but the anxiety about leaving them often overrides the need to escape. If it were up to me to organise travel, I’d be forever finding excuses not to do it.

In our house, my husband is 'head of travel', so he will have flights and accommodation booked the second he senses even the slightest hint of interest from me. Yes, I’m that person in the relationship who often doesn’t know or forgets where we are staying until we arrive. My husband will even phone my mother and ask (beg) her to come and stay with our girls, which she always does happily. We’re very lucky for this as he knows I wouldn’t leave them with anyone else.

He generally books the flights well in advance, which allows me to go into a full denial phase. I won’t talk about the trip; I’ll exhibit zero excitement or interest in the trip's planning. I’ll put it out of my mind completely. At the last minute, I’ll panic that l need to book some restaurants, or we’ll be stuck with concierge recommendations. So, I’ll call on well- travelled friends for advice on our destination and half-heartedly pull together an itinerary. 


I’ll admit at this moment of feeling small twinges of excitement. I’ll picture us having a long lunch somewhere, followed by some shopping or sightseeing. I’ll look forward to it. I’ll buy a few summer outfits. Then, seconds later, reality crashes in and I’m overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and dread.

Part of my anxiety is fuelled by the fear of something happening. Once my husband even suggested we take separate flights in the hope it would calm me down (I refused). Friends offer to share their Valium stash (I also refused). My GP offered calming words and reminded me it was important to prioritise my husband as much as I did my children. I really appreciated this from her.

As the trip gets closer, I’ll go into full over-compensation mode. I’ll fill the freezer with enough food for six months, drawers labelled with contents. I’ll draw up schedules, sample menus, ensure wardrobes have been culled off too-small clothing, notify school, and check our emergency contacts list. I plan everything possible (because I’m an absolute control freak), telling myself I’m doing it to a) make mum’s life easier and b) keep the girls lives as normal as possible.

Listen to This Glorious Mess, a twice-weekly look at parenting as it really is - confusing, exhausting, inspiring, funny, and full of surprises. Story continues after podcast.

The week of the trip inevitably arrives. I’ll go from feeling a sense of dread so deep it makes me feel physically ill, to feeling nothing but numbness as I attempt to pack. How can I leave my darling girls?


COVID, that double-edged sword, which once had me grateful to be at home with the girls, has once again made life harder as it has now been three long years since we last left them. We are travelling to LA and all I can think about is that long flight over the dark, deep Pacific Ocean. I’m not a bad flyer but I’m when I’m travelling without my children, I find it hard to not imagine worst-case scenarios.

My husband reassures me when I raise concerns about the flight ("Qantas have never crashed"). I insist Qantas will have to crash, eventually. He argues this point in his typical calm lawyerly way that infuriates me, and I march out of the room, straight back into the kitchen to check on the status of the freezer.

Still, I insist we revisit our wills. He agrees that this is wise and contacts the lawyers immediately. This puts me slightly at ease. 

Finally, after many long nights of torment, it’s time to go. I mustn’t cry in front of the children. The six-year-old cries first, in my lap, with pleas for me not to go. As we walk out the front door, the four-year-old calls out "Mummy!!!!!"

How can I leave them?

I leave them, with an enormously heavy heart, because my husband needs me to. And this is not about being a subservient wife in any way, but it’s about being a wife who wants to put time and effort and love into her marriage to ensure its longevity. That’s why I leave them, as much as my heart aches to do so. I know I’ll cry half the way to the airport, I’ll cry half the way to LA, arriving puffy and blotchy. But then we’ll shower and unpack, have a nice dinner and a glass of wine.


We’ll hopefully get some sleep and wake up in a huge bed without children or an alarm, have a leisurely breakfast, no dishes, no lunchboxes, no school run. My husband will take me shopping to cheer me up, we will go out for lunch and then perhaps spend some time by the pool. By the evening we will be ready for a cocktail, and I’ll be easing into the beauty of this time together, of the respite it brings and with it, the richness it gives to our relationship.

A week later, I’ll be counting down the moments until the girls are back in my arms, the flight home will feel like an eternity, and then I’ll race in the door for that first happy squeal and cuddle. Happy tears, relief flooding through me.

As I wrote in a note for the children to find a few days after our departure, one day I hope they will understand how important it was for us to have this time, and that a happy marriage impacts not just us but them, in immeasurable ways. One day, I hope.

Elizabeth Briskin is a freelance writer who is currently completing her Masters of Writing. Previously, Elizabeth has written for The Grace Tales. Elizabeth is a mother of two young girls who lives in Melbourne and enjoys writing about motherhood, relationships and culture, as well as fashion after working in the industry for over 15 years.

Feature Image: Getty.

It can be tricky raising little humans and that’s why we want to hear from all Parents in this short survey. Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher!