I need to confess that I am that mom who hasn’t left her children with sitters for longer than one night in order to have a romantic overnight alone with her husband. I also need to confess that I preach regularly about putting your relationship with your spouse in a priority position because someday, God willing, it will be just the two of you, so you better like each other. Or for that matter, even know who each other are after decades of running “Family Inc.” I mostly take my own advice but neither I nor my husband have been able to get it together enough to have more than one night alone with each other in twelve years. Twelve years.
So the prospect of sending my ten and twelve year-old sons back east for three weeks with relatives had me giddy as a school girl. I was picturing having sex in every room of the house, spontaneous happy hours, leisurely meals at adult restaurants (or as my friend once put it, “places with no chicken nuggets on the menu”), in short everything we haven’t been able to indulge in for over a decade. It was going to be epic.
But as I should know by now the reality rarely measures up to the fantasy. The following are my lessons learned from my child-free experiment, the good, the bad, and the ugly:
- Child Free does not Mean Life Suddenly Becomes a Spuds McKenzie Beer Commercial. Mistake number one was that I oversold the experience of being childless to myself. Yes, my greatest responsibilities in life were someone else’s but that still left me with approximately 10,356 other things that were still requiring attention. I knew from the moment my husband picked me up from the airport after returning from a conference and ecstatic to start our three childless weeks together that I had made a grave miscalculation. I knew it because he started out by telling me a story in which he tried to get onto a twenty-six foot tall roof with a twenty-four foot tall ladder. My heart sank. I cannot even make this stuff up–he ended up with three broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung. Not only would we not be having sex in every room of the house but my consolation prize was I would be on lawnmower duty for the next three weeks. Then our microwave blew out. Then our central air stopped working (we live in Arizona so air conditioning is kind of important). Then my mother fell and had to be hospitalized. Oh, and just for fun my dog developed a nasty double ear infection.
I set the bar too high. It felt like every New Year’s Eve—lots of buildup but not actually worth the trouble. I’ve wondered if it would have been better if my husband and I had gone to a beach in Mexico but then quickly did the math and realized that we would have just had to deal with all of the same issues from a foreign country. Lesson learned: life stops for no one and nothing. We make plans, God Laughs. Next time I will value the alone time with my spouse and not be disappointed because my unrealistically high expectations weren’t met.
- Child Free Communication Time Rocks. To me good communication is the cornerstone of a happy marriage. I will be the first to admit that my husband and I haven’t had anything approaching good—or for that matter normal—communication since our first child learned how to spell. The tough decisions and difficult discussions that affect my family have been rushed, held behind closed doors, in hushed tones and out of earshot of the children for the better part of a decade. To have had three weeks to hash out in depth what we haven’t been able to in close to ten years was truly wonderful. To be able to have honest and frank discussions without having to censor ourselves because of the children was priceless. I’m sure those discussions were made even easier because of the copious amounts of Percocet my husband was taking to dull the pain of the broken ribs and collapsed lung. But I bet we’d have had a similar experience even without the narcotics.
- Missing Your Children is a Good Thing. I adore my children. But being the mother of two high-spirited tween boys is enough to drive a mother to drink. A lot. Between the constant need to discipline, the endless sports practices, the last minute science projects, the doctor and dentist appointments, the endless trips to the grocery store because they eat like a pack of wild boars it’s difficult to find two seconds of peace. And if I had a second of peace I might just be able to reflect on all the awesome things those two crazy kids bring to my life. But the running of Family Inc. doesn’t allow space for that. Three weeks without my children (and essentially without a fully conscious husband, thank you Percocet) gave me plenty of time to reflect on all the amazing things my children bring to my life. I missed nearly everything about them. I never realized how lovely it is to wake up to a home full of humans and conversely how echoingly empty a house without children is. I began to understand people who feel like their pets are their children. I love my two crazy rescue dogs but after a week of no children I couldn’t stop cuddling them and talking to them excessively. It’s a slippery slope to being a crazy cat lady which I totally sympathize with now. It was wonderful to finally be able to reflect on the joys of parenting because I wasn’t knee deep in crazy.
I have high hopes for next summer. I’ve set my expectations appropriately and plan to bubble wrap my husband the month before we ship the boys back east. I’ll let you know how it goes!