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Can Parents Take a Child-Free Vacation without Guilt?

Can Parents Take a Child-Free Vacation without Guilt?

My husband and I just went on our first vacation together – without our daughter – in six years. The grandparents filled in, and we had five days of uninterrupted, tantrum-free, adult time. It was wonderful to reconnect, relax and to forget about juice boxes and crayons and snow pants and Peppa Pig. No need to plan ahead. No need to multitask. No need to balance. We were just able to BE. It was awesome.

It was also hard.

I cried.

I felt guilty.

When our airplane took off I had an intense urge to storm the cockpit and demand the plane be turned around. Then I had to ask myself – for what? So that I could chop up my daughter’s banana just the way she likes it? So that I could make sure her shoes were on the right feet? So that I could watch her watch “Timmy Time”? Was it actually possible that her grandparents would be able to do these things equally as well?

It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes – the thought that someone else can substitute as you – but it IS possible. In fact, it’s the one reality you’ll have to accept if you ever want your child to thrive independently of you. Yes, your child WILL survive even without your magical, mystical, all-knowing, all-powerful parenting skills. As parents, sometimes we don’t want that to be the truth, but it’s also one of our greatest accomplishments when we’ve gotten them to the point that they can be confident, secure, independent beings without our nods of encouragement.

I kind of equate leaving my daughter to the feelings I’ve had when leaving a job. I know it’s a little strange, but stick with me on this one. I remember once a mentor saying to me early in my career, “Lisa – we love having you here. We don’t want you to go. But if you do go, know that life will go on. We will find someone new and nothing with stop.” It sounds silly, but that’s the same wisdom I used when thinking about my daughter while we were off frolicking in Aruba and you know what? It wasn’t so off-base.

My daughter didn’t think it was hard that we left. She had a ball. She got to eat her cereal with chocolate milk (thanks grandma and grandpa). She got to school on time and was picked up on time. She colored and played and went to her activities and watched movies and stayed up late. She was treated to ice cream and slept like a log. Did she miss us? Of course! Was she excited to FaceTime with us everyday? You bet!

What I learned was much like most milestones and transitions you experience with your children – it’s harder on you than it is on them. Vacationing away from our daughter wasn’t any different.

One final note. Something else I learned was that you PROBABLY want to not only let your child’s school know that someone else will be picking up and dropping off, but also WHY. I kind of forgot to tell them that we were going on vacation, and that if something should happen (like say get a bloody nose on the day that you leave) that the nurse knows who to call and isn’t frustrated because she gets your voicemail.

Another valuable lesson learned! At least I got a tan doing it.

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in 2014 and has since been updated.

The Work-Life Equation Podcast Episode 5: Strike a Balance with Good Enough Parenting

In this episode of the Work-Life Equation, we revisit a webinar about striking a balance between parenting, working, and the rest of your life. Doctors Marti and Erin Erickson, parenting experts and co-hosts of the Mom Enough podcast, tackle evergreen work-life issues, such as managing time, letting go, and setting boundaries.

More on Parental Guilt


  1. Kim Boucher April 1, 2014 at 7:18 am

    I have a problem going on vacation without my two little ones. Not because I am worried about their diets, activities, teeth brushing etc…well ok a little of that. But the main problem I have is that working full time and trying to get essentials taken care of like food on the table and clothes laundered; I feel like I don’t spend enough time with my kids. Vacation days and weekends are precious and I am hesitant to spend that time away from them. I want to include them in as many memories as possible but my husband is all for the adult only trip. I know it is important to spend time building the marraige as well but wish I could do so with my kids along. I would love to see a post on how working moms handle that guilt of not enough time with the kids.

    • Lisa April 1, 2014 at 9:16 am

      That’s a good idea Kim! Overcoming guilt is a really tough one for all of us (even if you’re not working!) I have plenty to say on that topic, as I struggled with guilt for a long time (still do). I’m not sure it will ever go away, but I have discovered that it doesn’t need to rule my life.

  2. Amy April 1, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I feel the same way too, Kim. It’s a tough one because those weekends are precious. When I look at the big picture, a small time away is not really that much time and it can be beneficial for the kids. My husband and I just came back from our 2nd annual parents-only ski weekend away. We decided to leave on Friday after dinner and we got back on Sunday afternoon. That way, we could spend time with the kids on Sunday (and run weekly errands like grocery shopping!). The kids had a blast with their nona – they went to a nature reserve one day and the zoo the next. So maybe small baby steps towards a longer vacation away is the right answer for you.

  3. Real Family Trips May 9, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Family vacations are so important, but parents do need to take some time for themselves now and again. And just as you described, it can be a fun time for the kids as well (yes, they will survive!).

    Thanks for sharing this. It was a really great post and one I am sure a lot of parents can connect with.

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