When my kids were younger, my husband and I felt the desperate need to plan at least one short vacation a year with just the two of us. Of course, we'd plan another vacation for the whole family, but we knew we needed the time away to be a couple again. At the time, parenthood was just too exhausting. While we enjoyed traveling with the kids when they were younger, it was so much extra work. But now that my kids are a little older (ages 5 and 7), I can report that traveling with them is doable — and, dare I say, fun.
I remember going on vacations when the kids were toddlers and babies. I always set my expectations far too high. I pictured everything running smoothly, but of course, we always had hiccups. Either their sleep was thrown off or they didn't want to adjust to the new environment; there was always an issue that kept us from having the ideal vacation I'd pictured. After returning home, I felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation. Only in parenthood, that doesn't exist. But luckily, around ages 4 and 6, something changed.
This is the first year in a while that my husband and I didn't plan a short vacation without the kids. We just didn't feel the need to be away from them. Our children are becoming more independent with each passing day. The physical exhaustion of parenthood has vanished now, and I think we've hit the elusive sweet spot. And because we know that the day will come when our kids would rather be caught dead than hanging around us, my husband and I have decided to take them with us on all of our vacations before they're too cool.
Recently, my husband and I sat down to plan a long weekend in Asheville, NC, for next year. We pictured ourselves going on a hike in the mountains then landing in a brewery in town for lunch and a beer. But then I realized our kids were old enough to do all that with us. And most importantly, I want to experience a day like that, surrounded by nature, with them. If they were younger, I wouldn't even think about it. I'd have to buy a special baby carrier and meticulously pack enough snacks and bottles, plan around their naps, and more. But now, my kids are to the age where I know they'll be excited to explore right by our sides.
Just this past summer, our family of four traveled north in our state of Michigan. My kids were able to do things we only dreamed about when they were younger. They hiked much longer than I expected and even lasted on a two-hour canoe trip. Was it perfect? Of course not. They grumbled at times because they were hot or hungry, or because of other typical kid stuff. But I do know that my time was better with them than it would have been without them. Kids are constant observers of little things, and without them, I probably wouldn't have slowed down enough to notice a caterpillar in the sand or an eagle flying overhead.
My husband and I still saved some time for ourselves in the evenings. After we tucked the kids into bed, we settled in together on the patio outside, sipped on a beer, and watched the sun set. I know that sounds cliché, but after a day of exploring with the kids, that's just what we needed. There was no staying up late or sleeping in, because the kids were with us, but we didn't feel the strong need to do those things, either.
Yes, we still have to plan ahead on trips with the kids — reminding them to pee before we leave and to pack enough snacks. But overall, having them around on vacations makes it much more worthwhile. I can't believe we finally got to this age, but we're here, and I'm so thrilled. Now, we're building family memories — and I can't wait to start planning the next one.