I love to travel. I also revel in the fine detail work of crafting intricate itineraries. Planning a trip brings me as much joy—maybe more!—as setting out on the adventure itself.
That said, for a stay at home parent like me, taking a vacation is often the greatest challenge of my “job.”
I create opportunities for my working spouse to relax
After all, if my husband is coming along, he’s taking rare time off from his demanding career. One of the divisions of labor that we’ve agreed to, in our partnership, is my assumption of responsibilities for vacation planning.
Also, DH is a homebody, so most trips are my idea. If his role isn’t a relaxing one, he won’t want to travel the next time. My family would lose out if my husband just stayed home.
I believe studies that suggest there are health benefits to travel, especially when a trip is well planned.
The kids need to see their dad with fewer distractions, stepping outside his comfort zone, and with more time than usual to spend with them. DH benefits by seeing the kids blossom in a new environment.
Plus, I miss him like crazy when we leave him home alone.
I want to give my overworked husband a relaxing break from his daily stresses. That’s a loving gesture on my part because I like doing nice things for the man I love.
It’s also good sense for a spouse who doesn’t generate income. I am protecting our financial future by allowing the partner who brings home the paycheck to unwind a little.
My husband’s success is due largely to his creative mind. He should also get credit for his hard work and specialized skills, but many people can and do work hard and complete advanced degrees. Few of them manage to push scientific boundaries in new directions as he does. A refreshed intellect generates better ideas.
Parenting work is complex away from home…
Some vacations offer reduced efforts in the realms of housework and feeding the family. My favorite thing about staying in a hotel is walking into an immaculate room with nothing on the floor!
And eating in restaurants? It’s hard to say how much I enjoy dodging the washing of dishes and the wiping of sticky counters. My admiration for those who work in food service borders on love and devotion. I hate most of these tasks, and I’m so grateful to those who are willing to do them for me.
But, though these jobs take up plenty of time at home, they don’t comprise the bulk of my effortful work as a parent. They are necessary, but not particularly complex or demanding. Even at home, when I want a break, I can hire a house cleaner or take the kids out to eat.
The really challenging requirements of parenting relate to its most vital goal: raising small people into fully-formed adults.
A few examples:
- Assisting a unique individual to maximize his own potential
- Negotiating the complexities of relationships between growing personalities
- Helping them—but not too much!
- Guiding them—but encouraging them to seek their own paths
- Keeping them safe—but allowing them to take enough risks to fail, to learn, to try again
Most of these tasks get harder on vacation!
With all the predictable routines of daily life gone, we experience the thrill of something new. This has a cost of anxiety about the unknown. Using myself as an example, I know that I lose my cool more rapidly when I feel anxious. I don’t blame the kids for doing the same.
My job is to keep my own composure, and offer enough strength of will to help the boys do the same. Or throw an upset child a lifeline that he can use to drag himself back to equanimity.
We grow when we are challenged. Changes—even positive ones—create challenges. Travel promotes growth, but it is rife with challenges, small and large.
Preparing my family for a trip is part of my “job description” as a stay at home mom. It’s a task I enjoy, and one I do pretty well. It’s not a burden.
…and it remains complex upon our return
That said, when we return from a really great vacation, I’m typically exhausted. Sometimes I even fall prey to “leisure sickness” (or something like it), succumbing to a cold as soon as the work of vacation preparations is complete.
Last month, for example, after a whirlwind road trip with a van full of boys and a week of family camp supervising the full crew, I “enjoyed” ten days of respiratory illness and coughing of the oh-my-aching-stomach-muscles variety.
It hit me the day after I returned the borrowed children to their parents and got my oldest settled for a week of sleepaway summer camp. This was the week that I was scheduled to enjoy some down time with my own mom while the men (and DS2) went fishing. And God said, “Ha!”
Beyond the physical, returning home after weeks away comes with an emotional let down, too.
“The trip I planned for months is over?”
And then there’s the housework
I will have mounds of laundry to wash, snack foods to re-shelve in the pantry, suitcases to search for stray socks and hitchhiking bedbugs, mail to peruse and respond to…
In other words, life goes on, and so does my work. I’ve even made more of it by going away.
But, I have learned to plan for at least one quiet day upon our return. When asked, I give the date we’ll be home as a day later than my plan. That final “vacation day” gives me a chance to nudge our life back into order.
I don’t schedule early appointments for a few days after a trip. I plan to sleep my fill until my body’s ready to resume the usual routine.
I’ll order groceries from Amazon Fresh or a similar delivery service if possible. There’s usually a pizza night right after a trip.
I do what I can to ease the transition. I accept what I can’t change as a cost of the new experiences gained. I let the post-vacation let down run its course and give myself permission to have mixed emotions.
I help the kids process their own transitions, too, from jet lag to lost toys to keeping in touch with new friends in faraway places.
“Mom, what time is it in Minnesota?”
And, in the middle of all this, I usually spend at least a few minutes daydreaming about what might be our next big adventure—between loads of laundry, that is.