The other day, I was contacted by Jacoba Urist of NBC news, who had two simple questions for me. First, do I believe parents should ever vacation without their kids? And second, would I be willing to state my answer publicly.
Chalk me down for two yeses.
Would you vacation without kids?
But before I get into that, let me first say this: I get it that not everyone is in a position to vacation without their children for any number of reasons, finances and feasibility being chief among them. After all, vacations aren’t free, and if your budget will only allow for only one per year, it’d be awfully callous to leave Junior behind while you and your spouse channel your inner Fantasy Island. Because family vacations are a treasure trove of precious family memories, and those memories are not only quintessential in helping to build a tight-knit nuclear family, but they’re also ones that last forever.
And with regard to feasibility, I also understand that not everyone has a grandparent in their backyard who’s ready, willing and able to tend to their grandchildren just so you and your man can crush Mai Tais in some questionable tiki hut. Trust me, as a guy with five kids, I get feasibility issues.
But here’s one thing I don’t get couples with neither financial nor feasibility constraints who don’t vacation, at least every now and then, without their children. Is a week too long to be without your Littles? I get that. Truth be told, it’s probably be too long for me, and I know it’s too long for my wife.
And I also get if folks were reticent to hop on a plane and fly off to Tahiti. Caroline and I wouldn’t ever want to be that far from our five. So we’d never be good candidates to run away to the other side of the world.
But we’re great candidates to run away to the other side of the county. And we do make it a priority to regularly get away. Every six months, in fact, we bug out on our kids, usually to the same place, a collection of quaint little cabins on the Townsend side of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, a mere 45-minute commute from our front door.
We’re usually gone just two nights, and, to be honest, we don’t do much. A lot of sleeping, a lot of reading, usually a nice dinner. We also try to get to the park and knock out a hike. We see it as our time and our time only, and we’re very selfish about it.
So why is getting away all by ourselves so critical? Because it’s our chance to reconnect, our chance to decompress, and, most importantly, our chance to put each other first for 48 continuous hours. Because I believe, as man and wife, Caroline and I are each other’s number one priority. And I believe that our family is a better one because we consider each other just that.
Detractors would say “how could you put anything, even your spouse, before your children?”
My answer would be I don’t, per se, in that our children constantly come first with their acute needs. And we address those acute needs by all the mundane things we constantly do for them — like shuttling them to and fro all the many places their schedules require they be, feeding them, helping them with homework, kissing their boo-boos and protecting them from things that go bump in the middle of the night.
But even as I continually address the countless, constant acute needs of my children, the chronic underlying pulse to my life is my relationship with my wife, and acknowledging that relationship as such creates one that’s filled with more reverence, respect and love than would be the case were my wife and I to always put our children first.
Which means, paradoxically, that putting each other before our children actually benefits our children far more than if we were to do it the other way around.
Because, the loving relationship we share trickles down to fill our children’s lives with far more love than would be the case were we not to do this, and our little semi-annual retreats are a big part of that philosophy.
Besides, when you think about it, we’re not really putting each before our children because our children are extensions of ourselves.
So by honoring my wife as my number one earthly commitment, I’m honoring each of my five children in the exact same way.