Distance Makes the Mom Grow Stronger

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Lori and John Heicher's oldest child was born on their first wedding anniversary. The birth was a special gift to celebrate the couple's marriage. It also meant that each anniversary was marked with birthday parties and balloons instead of romantic dinners.

"It was great, but in a way our anniversary was stolen," Mrs. Heicher said.

So when Rebecca was 4 years old, the Hilliard couple went on vacation without her.

As two more kids came along, they came up with more reasons for adult-only trips: a 10th anniversary, a 40th birthday, vacations to celebrate friends' milestones. Each time they realized the same thing: A little distance makes the family stronger.

"It's fabulous. It's just great to reconnect," Heicher said. "We still sit around and talk about the kids 80 percent of the time, but it's good stuff."

The Benefits

While it's fun and beneficial to travel with the whole family, parenting experts say that it's just as healthy to get away without the kids.

"You want to keep your marriage solid," said Susan Newman, a social psychologist who specializes in children and family issues. "Children tend to pull you apart because you have so many demands. There's so much stress with children. A break is a good thing, sort of like filling up the gas tank."

Some time apart can also benefit the kids as well.

"We're excited to re-enter their lives again," Heicher said, adding, "Kids are so entitled nowadays and, when we're gone, they take on a little more responsibility."

Parents are much more focused on their children now, and sometimes releasing the grip can give them a sense of freedom and responsibility, Newman added.

"It encourages independence," she said. "A lot of children have separation anxiety. Your going away might help them over that hump."

Caroline Schafer is a travel agent with two children, ages 2 and 4. She started the Vermont-based Moms on Vacation Travel Club (online at moms-on-vacation.com) to help other mothers find travel deals and plan trips that don't center on their children.

She hears from mothers who say traveling with their girlfriends helped them clear their minds and appreciate their families more. Spas and all-inclusive resorts are popular mommy getaways, she said.

Schafer said she sometimes feels guilty leaving her children, but she knows it's a good thing.

"You tend to go back to yourself, to define what you were before you were a mom," she said. "It teaches my kids I'm not the only one they can rely on."

The Challenges

Traveling can make many parents, especially those who have young children, feel nervous and guilty. They worry that something could go wrong, and they wouldn't be there for their children. They feel guilty that they're having fun without the little ones.

Deciding to leave the children for a vacation, or determining when to do it, is a personal decision, said Schafer.

"I think a lot of moms want to take a break, but they don't think their husbands can take care of the children the way they do," she said.

If she's gone for several days, Schafer uses Skype to touch base with the kids and leaves them special meals.

But don't spend the trip feeling bad.

"Say, 'I deserve this.' Keep repeating the mantra: 'I deserve this,' " Newman advised. "Remind yourself that children are very resilient and adaptable. (And) if something's wrong you'll hear about it. If the cell phone doesn't ring, be happy about it."

Some parents said they started with a long weekend near their home, and then worked their way up to a longer trip or a farther destination.

The Heicher children - Rebecca, now 15, Rachel, 9, and Ryan, 7 - have benefited from their parents' travel with more than just gifts. The couple scouted out places they plan to return with the kids, including a family trip last summer to the Bahamas.

But adult-only travel will always be in the cards. Mrs. Heicher said a solid marriage is the foundation of their family.

"I cannot imagine having an unhappy marriage and being a good parent," she said. "I need to remember why I invited him in my life in the first place."

How to Travel without the Kids

Parents and experts gave some tips on making trips without the children easier on the whole family:

  • Leave the children in the care of someone who shares the same parenting philosophies. It should be someone that both you and your children trust.
  • Write down medical information - allergies, phone numbers for doctors - and instructions on what to do if an emergency arises. One parent said she leaves a notarized letter authorizing the caregiver to make medical decisions for the children.
  • Make sure the children know where you're going, and when you'll be back.
  • Some parents leave notes under pillows, in backpacks, and other places the children will find during their absence.
  • Planning special meals or outings for the children during the vacation can ease a parent's guilt.
  • Don't forget to bring back souvenirs or small gifts for the kids.

To learn more about The Alternative Center, visit thealternativecenter.com or call 614-668-4002.