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No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.
– Elbert Hubbard
Expectant parents soon tire of one constant refrain:
"Everything changes when you have kids."
It's normally followed up with proof points: a fresh perspective on what matters in life, a "temporary" halting of your sleep schedule, or the metaphorical multiplying of your heart.
But there's another big change that rarely gets talked about—the end of the holiday, at least as you once knew it.
When you finally manage to break through the baby fog and get yourself on one, they're an off-kilter echo of what they once were—like drinking a sugar-free Coke, or trying on a shirt that doesn't fit as well as it used to.
In the days Before Children (B.C.), holidays were a time to recharge. A week—maybe more—to detach from the day job, to work your way through a suitcase full of books and a well-stocked bar, hoping for sun and a western-facing viewpoint to exhaust your camera roll with a hundred identical sunset shots.
Post-kids? They're something else entirely. No longer a time for rest, at least by your old yardstick. It's a parenting away game: in a new place, and without your home ground advantage; up against formidable opponents who are out of their regular routine; on full-time duty, more exhausted than you were in the office, and making it up as you go along. It's simultaneously wonderful and terrifying—a microcosm of the parenting experience, a beautiful chaos, as you live atop of one another in a hotel room.
Holidays as a memory making machine
So why do we do it? Part of it is a break from the routine. To get away from the steady drumbeat of parenting: waking them up, making sure they're fed, getting them dressed, exiting the house in a whirlwind of flailing limbs, managing all your own shit at work, then picking them up, trying your best to feed them, wash them and finally get them to bed, just to fall asleep in front of the TV to later have Netflix ask you “Are you still watching?” before hitting the sack and start all over again the next day.
But if it was just about escaping the humdrum, I'm not sure we'd place so much importance on time off. The key factor—for my money, at least—is the unique ability of the family holiday as a memory maker. Close your eyes, just for a second, and think back to a trip from your own childhood. I'm sure it won’t be long before something clear and concrete comes to the fore.
My mind takes me back to sometime around 1991. It was a Eurocamp location on Île de Ré, a small island off the west coast of France. We'd driven down in the car from Manchester, our first trip that wasn't Ireland-bound. We'd wake up every morning at the crack of dawn, pick up a fresh baguette (très chic), take it back to our lime green tent and devour it for breakfast with with spoonfuls of strawberry jam and whatever cheese we were brave enough to try that day.
It was an eye-opening experience, and the first time we met other children that weren't like us. We made friends with two Dutch kids in the tent next door, amazed at their English ("they're the same age as us and they speak TWO LANGUAGES!") We played board games with them, smiling at their pronunciation of "Mono-poly", and how it rhymed with "roly-poly". We stayed up late (at least we thought it was, it was probably only 8.30pm), running around the campsite with our new European copains, convincing the pool manager to open the piscine one evening, as we swam under the light of a full moon, in awe of more stars than we'd ever seen, our parents enjoying a drink or two with new friends who were similarly relieved with a few minutes peace to themselves.
I’d like to think we had a family holiday like this last month. We took the short flight from Barcelona to Mallorca for 10 days of island living. Like many who've taken the plunge this summer, it was our first real vacation since THE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES began last March. I was coming to the island with baggage—both of the literal kind (travelling with two kids is no joke) and the metaphorical too. For those of from the UK, you'll have grown up with a murky view of Mallorca: it was primarily known for the resort town of Maguluf, home of the Club 18-30 holiday, marketed as a place for "sun, sand and sex", who ran adverts like this on TV in the 90s (can you even imagine that running today, let alone winning a Gold Lion at Cannes?)
Within a day of arriving at our quiet, quaint town in the middle of the island, I realised I couldn't have been more wrong: golden beaches seemed to be at the end of every street, with aquamarine seas that looked like they'd been Photoshopped, and to the north the most stunning mountain range holding us in it's embrace. The kids spent at least four hours a day in some kind of water, and I was getting worried they might grow gills if we stayed any longer. We left with sand in our suitcase and smiles on our faces, vowing to return with friends at a later date.
A holiday away from your family
Sure, holidays hit different now. And the family vacation will keep changing, as our children get older. But as parents we need to start thinking about time off in two different ways. There's the holiday you take with your kids, the aforementioned memory makers. Then there's the holiday you take from them. This second type of vacation isn't as common, though it needs to be. I had one last Easter, when my wife took the kids to the UK to see her parents. I stayed in Barcelona, seeing friends, catching up on reading, walking in the Collserola, cycling to the beach and watching sunrises. In a strange way, it was like a pre-kid holiday—quiet time, mine to do whatever I wanted.
I didn't expect the week to be so transformational. I've had time away from my kids, sure. But it was always for work. This was dramatically different. When they came back, I felt like I'd been away for a spa week, or a meditation retreat— fully recharged, afresh, anew. And so glad to see them again. I’d missed them all so much, and realised that I actually missed missing them—we'd been together so long that I'd forgotten how that felt.
The more eagle-eyed among you might have noticed the lack of a newsletter last Tuesday. That wasn't the plan, as this essay was supposed to go out then. But last week my wife took some time to herself while I went to Manchester, visiting family and parenting solo. And honestly? I absolutely underestimated how relentless it would be. It was the first time I had them on my own for longer than a night. This newsletter normally takes me about 6-8 hours every week. And I just couldn’t find the time. I was jumping between parenting and a calendar full of meetings, leaning on family members to keep an eye on the kids for 30 minutes while taking a call or replying to an email. One recurring thought of the week: how in the hell do single parents with a full-time job do this? By the time my kids went to bed I wasn't far behind.
Robert Orben once said "a vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it." He clearly wasn't on a weeklong holiday with his kids. But what might it look like if the vacation away from your family became just as normal as the one with them?
These two holidays are complimentary, and just as essential as each other. The time you spend alone makes you a better parent and partner when you're all back together.
It could be a week, maybe a weekend, or—like Madonna famously said—“just one day out of life”.
What would you do with it?
Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.
― Maya Angelou
3 things to read this week
I can’t recall when I came across ParentData, a evidence based parenting Substack, but I remember it being an instant subscribe. This post earlier in the month was around how we should be thinking about our children returning to school with the spread of the Delta variant, and how we can evaluate risk based on the numbers. "This isn’t fair. Parents need to be able to make decisions, and to move forward. And for that, they need facts."
Jessica Valenti from All In Her Head wrote a fantastic essay on raising daughters to be safe without making them afraid. Recommended reading for everyone, not just those of us raising girls. "My daughter is getting to the age where men are starting to look at her on the street. The age when she’ll have to evade leers or comments as she walks to school on her own for the first time. The age when I need to thread a careful needle in teaching her how to protect herself without instilling too much fear. She is 10."
Getting overwhelmed with the constant cleaning up after your kids this summer? The 10 Things Declutter Rule could be the way forward. "The rule is simple: anytime my family transitions between events or locations every single person — even (and especially) the kids — grabs 10 things to clean up."
Join The New Fatherhood Community
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Here's a few of the topics we've been talking about this month:
Systems, apps, and mindsets to help you be more organised as a dad.
Trying to decide on whether or not to put your toddler into nursery yet.
Choosing where to live as a family and what criteria to base your decision on.
And a whole load more.
This community is starting to feel like one of the nicest places on the internet. And the pace of conversation is perfect—it's more than enough to check in on once or twice a week, and it's never overwhelming. Other dads are turning to it whenever they need support, some advice, or just want to share a little win in their fatherhood journey. Here's what one of them said last week:
"I'm nearly 9 weeks into fatherhood, and this week I've come to the realisation that I do genuinely love being a dad. That's in no small part due to this community, Kevin's emails and the recommendations of media and content that you guys provide. I just wanted to drop a quick note to say thanks to all of you. 🙂"
That comment genuinely made my day.
Subscribe and join The New Fatherhood community today.
One thing to watch with the kids this week
The Paralympics start today, and our house is getting excited. Those of you in the UK might have seen the phenomenal "IT'S RUDE NOT TO STARE" posters out on the streets, and this highlight reel should open your children's eyes to the capabilities of these immense athletes.
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