I always cringe a little bit when someone tells me they’ve never left their child(ren) overnight. Especially when their child(ren) are like, 5 years old or older.
Now, my pendulum may swing a bit to the other extreme. The first time Ben and I left our first child, she was 6 weeks old and we drove 3 hours north across the border into another country. AND, we left our newborn with a good friend who, at that time, had no children of her own. She had no idea what she was saying yes to! To all of our credit, this friend was a capable RN who has since become an FNP with a Doctorate in Nursing and has also had 2 beautiful girls of her own. And Ben and I were gone for less than 24 hours for a very important and worthwhile event: the U2 360 tour with Black-Eyed Peas as the opener. In Vancouver, BC! It was legit. All of this reminds me: I probably owe Lisa some serious babysitting payback. Lisa, I’m here for you. You just name the time, friend.
When Ben and I were doing premarital counseling, we received some sound advice from our pastor and friend, Mike Gaffney, who married us. Because Ben was smack in the middle of seminary, Mike told us this: your spouse is ALWAYS your first ministry. This person comes before the church family to which you minister, your family of origin, and even before your children. Your marriage is your foundation. If you choose not to nourish it, tend to it, and care for it with the utmost importance, it will become stale. And stale foundations make for unstable foundations.
That advice has really stuck with us through the last eleven-plus years. So we choose to nourish our marriage in the form of TIME whenever possible. Usually we spend a night or two away around our anniversary, in addition to regular date nights (that’s some other great advice he gave us: never stop dating your spouse). But even though we are happy to drop our kids with someone else, I will say this: it gets increasingly more difficult to do so with the coming of each new child.
Which is partly why it has been over 2 years since we had more than a few hours away together from our children. I was shocked when I realized this. But after a bit, I found it did not come as such a surprise. You see, two years ago it was the Fall of 2015, about 6 months before our 10th anniversary. We wanted to do something really fun to celebrate, but we anticipated that we would be heading to Ethiopia soon to adopt our third child. So we decided to celebrate a bit early with a few days away to New York City.
We stayed right in the middle of Manhattan in a swanky hotel. We ate our way through as many ethnic culinary delights as possible. We rode the subway and ate late night pizza and had afternoon coffee and walked around for fun JUST BECAUSE WE COULD.
We high-fived Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show. We laughed until we cried at Colin Jost and Michael Che (SNL Weekend Update, anyone?) at the Comedy Cellar. We got lost in the rhythms of late night jazz. With star-struck eyes we squished in amongst the locals and cheered wildly as Pope Francis rolled through town in his Pope-mobile, visited the 911 Memorial and bawled our eyes out, cruised through Central Park on bikes, meandered the Highline, and to top it all off we were lucky enough to score tickets to the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park where we watched so many amazing musicians I probably can’t even remember all of them. But I remember some, like Beyonce, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, and Ed Sheeran. It was just so fun.
We got back to doing some of the things that brought us together in the first place. We got to remember why we like being together.
We returned from that trip with a fresh breath, ready to tackle life. And tackle life we did! By February 2015, our travel to Ethiopia was imminent, and by June we had boarded a plane, heading away from an old familiar life and straight on into a new one of which we were not prepared for in the slightest.
Now, let me fill you in on a little but very important detail about adoption. It is recommended by no one to leave your newly adopted baby/child with anyone, especially at first. So we didn’t. For a very long time. We became experts at taking time away one at a time, until we were in this sort of Tag Team mentality. Tag Team is necessary at times and can be good for specific reasons. But it cannot sustain a marriage all on its own.
Ben and I both agreed after 2 years it was time to revisit a key component of our marriage: spending time with each other.
JUST each other.
So we worked quickly to come up with an action plan. Now please note, we have 3 children, ages 8, 3, and 2. And we don’t live near any family members. These two things alone are enough to give up all hope of finding someone who can even handle our kids for 2 nights. Nevertheless, we persisted. For the sake of our marriage. For the sake of our kids. For the sake of our sanity, for the love.
Y’all, we couldn’t even find someone to watch the kids for the whole forty eight hours! So we booked two different sitters and I typed up a whole 2-page document because there are that many details worth mentioning for 2 days with 3 kids and 2 animals and I’m just slightly obnoxious that way and bless those sitters all the way to Heaven. We left home with kid #2 doing an awesome barking cough (call us if you have to take him to the ER and please don’t guilt my mother’s heart too much, mmmk?) and headed away from the chaos and the busyness and “over the hill” as they say around these parts.
45 minutes later we walked into serenity. Peace. Air to breathe. Space to connect. Time to talk. Permission to rest. To be still. To be quiet. To dream and to share and to work out and draw near.
Ben and I call our time away an investment into our marriage and our family. It is so ridiculous to think about paying for a babysitter for 48 hours in addition to travel cost, renting a place, eating meals either out or in, special activities, and any other incidentals that may come into play. But hear me when I say this: the benefit is always worth the cost.
Here are some of the most valuable reasons Ben and I have found for going away together:
- It helps us remember that WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM. Remember about Tag Teaming? It can become a “me vs. you” mentality very quickly, noticing the other’s shortcomings and becoming resentful. But when we get on the same team, we start working together. We get tender toward one another. We get compassion and grace and mercy for one another. Maybe we see the shortcomings, but what shines through more is the fact that that person had a lot on their plate today and they did the best they could and the least we can do is make them a cocktail and sit on the couch and commiserate. Amongst the clean(ish) laundry and random toys strewn about.
- We get to DREAM TOGETHER. Ben and I do this cool exercise every year on our anniversary. It’s not like a weird couples yoga exercise, you crazies. It’s a cognitive, paper-based exercise whereby we reflect on the year behind us and dream big about the year ahead. It is involved and can take several hours to simply write down thoughts, then a couple more hours to share, followed by months of implementation. Or not. Life is busy sometimes. But at least we get ourselves on the same page. We get to hear each other’s big moments from the last year. And trust me when I say, we are often surprised at what stood out to each of us. Sometimes it’s not even close to the same stuff! More importantly, we get to hear each other’s hopes, dreams, and goals for the coming year. We get ON THE SAME PAGE. So that, when our days look like this: hihowwasyourdayfineyou?goodheycanyougetthelittlesinthebathohweneedtofollowuponxyzandpaytheelectricbillandNinaneeds$forschoolpicturestomorrwocanyoupleasegrabGraham’sswimbagforlessonsonWednesdayanddon’tforgetIhavethatmeetingforAgrostomorrownightdinnerisonyourownweshouldgoforahikeandalsomowthelawnSaturday.Areyouasleep??? What we KNOW is this: I have big hopes and dreams for our future and so do you and some of those hopes and dreams are THE SAME and I love you so much I can’t stand it. How did we even end up together, this is too good to be true!
- We get PERSPECTIVE we can’t get at home. Sometimes you can’t see above the trenches when you are down in the depths of them. Getting out, at least for a little bit, gives us a chance to see what is actually going on all the live long day. We get a chance to evaluate what the heck we are even doing and whether or not it’s effective. Is there a way we can be better parents and people, more efficient in our daily tasks? Are we doing too much and do we maybe need to cut some stuff out? Is there something we need to add in? Or scrap entirely? We get a chance to see ourselves more accurately. We get to take a step back and maybe make some changes for the better.
- We get to PLAY TOGETHER. Remember when you met your spouse and your time together largely revolved around recreation? Common interests, events, and activities. Then you got married and you got real jobs and little people and a lot of responsibility and it is just so easy to cut out the recreation, the fun and the joy of life that brought you together in the first place. Getting away gives you the time to get back to some of that. For us, it’s usually something to do with music, eating, or outdoor adventures. What’s some of the fun stuff that brought you and your spouse together? Plan your time away around some of that. Bring some fun back into your relationship.
Here is what I am saying to you good people: PLEASE, for the sake of your marriage and your family. GO AWAY.
Get out into the world, in a way that is meaningful, refreshing, and life-giving for you and your spouse. The cost is never too great. I know it can be scary or hard to leave those little guys with someone else. But here’s a little secret: your children will be FINE. Take my #2 with the cough, for example. He never went to the ER (and even if he had, I could’ve been there quickly) and he relished all the snuggles from Miss Darla, more than I ever would’ve had time to give. Also, those sitters spoiled the kids relentlessly, and maybe I might scoff outwardly, but secretly I am cheering them on as they love my kids in a way I just can’t. It takes a village, and I am beyond blessed by ours.
I know it’s not easy making it happen, especially if you have a tight budget, no family members nearby or at least no capable family members nearby to help you out. It’s no excuse. Be creative. Offer to watch someone else’s kids for 2 nights and make a trade. Find a hotel room or VRBO during an off-season or sale. Build it into your budget. The cost of preserving your marriage will always be worth it. I can promise you that.
I am actually begging you to do this. The world will be better for it. Your family will be better for it. Your marriage will be better for it. You will be better for it.
Leave your children.