A couple of years ago Rodney and I went on a vacation—without kids—and had another couple join us. We got there the day before they did and when they arrived we were lounging by the pool, table side guacamole being eaten and fruity drinks in our hand. They approached and we hugged and laughed and asked about the trip and then we all sighed. Because we had actually gotten away. We had managed the chaos that is planning trips apart from your children—the scheduling of various sports practices and the games that weekend, the idiosyncrasies of each kid—like how high the fan must be turned up in each child’s room, how many times they are allowed to come out and ask to go to the bathroom at night as a sleep delay tactic, and the songs each requests to be sung to them at bedtime The prep time it takes to sneak away from your little dependents is no joke. And truth be told, on the drive to the airport and the flight to your destination, you are thinking about all of the things you may have forgotten—“did I say something about Pace’s tendency to have scary dreams about cats? Did I mention Asher likes chopped onions on his turkey sandwich?” You know, life altering stuff like that.
But then you arrive where it is you are going. And cats and onions don’t seem nearly as important as finding a cabana on the beach and you get the perspective only time away can get you.
When we went on that vacation with friends, not five minutes after they arrived, my friend looked at me said, “As soon as we landed, I looked at my husband and said, ‘I already like you more.’”
I laughed, because it was funny. But also because I can relate. Because just like there is incredible value in getting away as a family together, and seeing one another outside the bounds of normal life and routine, there is much to be said for doing the same thing with your spouse. To remind yourselves why you like each other as much as you do. To see one another outside the light of laundry day and dish washing duty, drain unclogging and lawn mowing. To see each other as people again. People you enjoy being yourselves, and enjoy being around.
There’s a downside of course. The thing no one tells you about taking vacations away from kids is how hard reentry is. You thought getting away was hard. Wait until you come back. Your kids have lost their minds. They realized pretty early on they are just fine without you because, as it turns out grandma gives them news toys just for finishing their meals, and it was Chick-fil-a frozen lemonade until their brain froze, and movie nights galore and a very loosely controlled chaos.
And then you come back. And they look at you and aren’t sure why they liked you at all. And you start doing crazy things like enforcing bedtime and denying them dessert until all the broccoli is gone, and making them wear clothes at the dinner table. You’re back in the routine of normal life, and so are they—and they hate you for it. Within the first 24 hours of coming back from the most relaxing couple of days you’ve had in years, all the benefits have disappeared—so it seems.
But you know what I’ve noticed after I’ve gotten away with Rodney and we walk into the Lord of the Flies situation we are facing at home? That the frustration that used to be aimed at each other—because it’s easy—isn’t there. In fact, it’s more laughing at the actual reality of our lives and not what felt like the reality when drinking freshly squeezed grapefruit juice each morning. It’s more stolen glances that remind each other we’re on the same team, we still like each other, and the beach was nice, but home is nicer. Because we are in the trenches together. Our time away was a leave of absence that reminded us of why we picked one another to do it all with so many years ago, and reentry is why we get away and the first place, but also why we love our life so much.
When we spend so much time in the thick of parenting, our gazes quickly, easily—and rightly, to a degree—turn outward. To our kids, to the little ones who need and deserve our attention. But when we stay there too long we forget what about the other one keeps us in it with them. We forget what got us there in the first place.
It’s hard to make the time. The planning to go away. The leaving it all behind. The coming back and feeling like your kids have reverted to Neanderthal cave men in your absence. And everyday life can feel harder after having experienced a break. But I remember soon after we had our first baby, an older and wiser mom told us to make the effort to get away. “Your kids need a vacation from you as much as you need one from them.” And we’ve held tightly to that advice and never looked back since.
Getting away is worth it because it brings to mind a reality that still exists, but sometimes slips beneath the surface under responsibility, routine and exhaustion. And sometimes we need to get away to remember. To turn our gaze back towards each other, and find ourselves letting out a big sigh of relief when we do.
Because we really do still like each other. A lot. We were in this together first, and taking time away with each other is what we do to keep communicating, “You’re still first. You’ll stay first. And I love you, but I also like you.”
Because the real secret isn’t just that I like my spouse more when we escape, I like my kids more, my life more when I come back. (After they’ve been weaned off frozen lemonade and they remember why their parents are so bad after all.)