What is the right age to ditch the kids for an adult-only summer holiday?
Taking a holiday without children can not only provide a time-out, but revive relationships, says Sally Peck
There comes a time during school holidays when parents start wondering why, precisely, we had been looking forward to all of that intensive time with the children.
However happy your family, the uninterrupted time together can be a bit overwhelming. You may find that you’re craving some adult-only time; a holiday from your holiday.
My husband took time away from our kids this week. As I write, we're on a train, heading for a reunion with our two children, ages seven and five, after we spent the week working and they spent the week fishing, boogie-boarding and gardening with my parents in the countryside.
I missed them far more than anticipated, but I have achieved new levels of post-child efficiency at work.
The children, for their part, sent emails with photo attachments that suggested good times: “I read three books today”; “A wave knocked me over and my boogie board went on top of me but I didn’t even cry.”
Of course, my husband and I are boring: we were working.
But, other than education, no question has divided my group of parent friends more than this one: when is it OK to leave your children and go on an adults-only holiday?
Of course, much depends on your situation (do you have hands-on grandparents living nearby? Full-time childcare help? A really involved brother/uncle?)
The choice of one couple to leave their four children, including a baby, with grandparents for an adult-only week-long ski trip set tongues wagging just as quickly as the refusal of another couple to attend a good friend’s wedding because the invitation hadn’t included their toddler, and they just couldn’t imagine leaving the child.
Friends who are single parents report even greater need for time off, and, from what I’ve seen, suffer fiercer judgement when they do take a break.
But parents, particularly new parents, report strain their relationships because they have little time together. Taking a holiday without the children - even for a weekend - can revive the relationship. But when?
Clearly, children reach stages at different ages. But I asked Emma Citron, a consultant clinical psychologist in private practice in North London, if she could offer a few developmental signs that a child is ready to be left behind so parents can have a child-free break.
1. Make sure they like the babysitter
“Some signs that a child is ready to be more easily left (without undue tears at departure or clinginess upon return) is that they are comfortable with the person/ people that you are leaving them and do not cry or show other signs of distress when you tell them of your intentions. Ask them, too, if they'd prefer someone else to be left with.
“It is of course the emotional closeness and emotional availability and kindness of the person the youngster is being left with - and the amount of time as well as other variables such as the maturity of the child - that smooths the passage for that seemingly vital break.”
2. Tell them what you're doing, and why
“Explain that it is good for parents to visit things like museums that children may not want to go to if the child seems to feel rejected that they haven't been included.”
3. Make sure the child can communicate - with you and the carer
“You can, of course, leave a child with a trusted other at any age but leaving an under-3 can feel especially hard for the child as it is harder to communicate effectively with a very young child.”
4. Stay in touch
“It is very helpful to a child of any age if you can Skype or call and even show them the room or view from your hotel. Including them in this way can help them not to feel somewhat rejected.”
“Check in daily or every two days. WhatsApp and Skype are great as seeing your face and chatting cheerfully about both of your days will create a positive and happy experience and make it much easier leaving them in the future.”
“Ask your child if they’d like to speak each day at a fixed time, for example after supper, as that routine will be comforting.”
Whatever you do, have fun.
And remember: these parent-only holidays are a lot like honeymoons. By the time you leave, quite a lot is riding on the trip. Last year, my husband and I went on our first solo holiday without the children. Three nights in Portugal seemed an incredible luxury until, one day in, I developed a severe and unprecedented intolerance to oysters. I spent the rest of our sunny trip holed up in the dark bedroom, behaving like an infant with a stomach bug.
Read more:Travelling with kids? Eight health tips, from ear pain to sun protection and tummy trouble