kids

'We all need annual leave from work. So I took it from being a parent.'

I have just returned from five nights away from my husband and two sons, meeting my little sister Amelia in Hong Kong for some precious time together. Many things needed to happen for us to take this child-free vacation, and I am still in debt to my husband and his family as well as Amelia’s family and all of our friends who helped to care for the kids in our absence.

All of the planning that went into this holiday was totally worth it however, as even now a week after my return, I am struggling to come down from what was a fantastically fun break from being a wife and mum. I know not everyone can take an overseas trip away from family, but I strongly believe that a no-kids-allowed break, should be made law for all hard-working parents.

Psychologist and founder of Empowering Parents Giuliette Moran agrees. She says:

“Parenting is a really challenging job, it is high-pressure, fast paced and can be highly emotional. In the workforce, you would have annual leave for some time-out as well as personal leave and in some instances, mental health days. Why should parenting be any different?”

Aside from the obvious pleasures of uninterrupted nights of sleep and eating exactly what and when we wanted, there were some lesser known, unexpected joys to this adults-only vacay, as I discovered…

The planning

Even just thinking about going away gave me months of excitement. There was the booking of the flights and the hotel while communicating by multiple excited face emojis with Amelia on What’s App. The buying of the guidebook and deciding what to do with our days together; researching cocktail bars, restaurants, events and walks we wanted to try. All of it completely unsuited to children and utterly flexible if we changed our mind.

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Laura and her sister Amelia. Image: Supplied.
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The travel

Anyone who has ever travelled with kids knows what a horrible experience that can be. From crying babies on planes to tantrummy toddlers at expensive theme parks; I’ve been there myself many times with that feeling of utter dread the night before a ‘holiday’.

Take young children out of the equation and suddenly catching a train with a coffee and a magazine becomes a rather simple and quiet activity to be enjoyed. The airport wait is not a matter for survival, but an opportunity to read a book and have a glass of wine. Much like the flight itself. I derived great pleasure from watching film after film and then dozing off without panicking about upsetting other passengers.

The reassurance of a well-cared for family

My husband went on a man-only surf trip in 2018 and has already started planning his next excursion in 2020. Knowing we have these holidays covered for each other makes the whole process fun from start to finish. No begging babysitting from grandparents or paid help – my boys were happy at home in their normal routine with dad at the helm, which made this holiday the ultimate in relaxation.

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Take young children out of the equation made everything a lot easier. Image: Supplied.

The joy in the frivolous

Packing for a trip when I didn’t need to factor in easy-wash fabrics or sensible toddler-chasing shoes was a lot of fun. My suitcase was filled with dry-clean only sequinned tops, heels and teeny tiny bags I couldn’t even fit a travel sized bag of baby wipes into. Amelia and I reverted to our youthful carefree selves, getting ready in the hotel bathroom while swapping lipsticks and nail polishes and talking about the clothes we wanted to buy, or the delicious wantons we fancied for dinner.

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A full itinerary

With young kids it would be adventurous to do more than one thing each day - better to keep it simple and avoid over-tiredness. Without kids or even our partners, Amelia and I could please ourselves. With a few starts at the gym or in the hotel pool, we went straight to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. We got ready in our own time, no hustle out the door, then took the subway to wherever we wanted to go. Every day we covered more than 20,000 steps and took in multiple tourist sites, shops, markets and great cafés, bars and restaurants. We returned to our hotel room after dark, knackered but happy.

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Every day we covered more than 20,000 steps and took in multiple tourist sites. Image: Supplied.

Finished conversations

I have perfected the art of cramming sentences into seconds, and infrequent Skype calls with Amelia normally involve kids wanting snacks or wailing in the background to get our attention. The joy of starting a deep conversation at breakfast that could continue through lunch and then dinner, was unparalleled, as psychologist Giuliette explains:

“It is common to focus on the day-to-day routine, so taking some time away can also allow busy parents to think about their hopes and dreams, what they would like to do differently and to refuel and refresh.”

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Laura's husband and two children. Image: Supplied.
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A happy welcome home

I was very sad to say goodbye to Amelia at Hong Kong airport, but I was also excited to know I would be seeing my boys again. My heart was full to bursting when I saw them waiting at the train station with big smiles on their sweet faces and it was with fresh enthusiasm that I came back to the reality of being a parent again.

As Giuliette wisely says, “children learn best through imitation, so teaching them the importance of self-care is a really valuable lesson. A parent can return from some time-out feeling more positive, energised and in turn is likely to be more patient and present with their family.”

Do you take time for yourself as a parent or wish you could? Do you believe it is a good idea to have time away from the family? Tell us more in the comments.

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