We Left Our Baby Behind, and That Makes Us Good Parents

July 29, 2015
Office_buildings_in_downtown_Omaha

A land of freedom…for three days

A couple of weekends ago, Cheri and I left town. We spent a long weekend a few hours away in Omaha, a beautiful city, if you are ever nearby.

We had a great time. We walked the pedestrian mall, explored the art museum and spent a day at the zoo.

We especially had a great time because we left our seven month old with my parents.

Yep, baby stayed away for

Three.

Whole.

Nights.

We had this long weekend planned out in advance, because we were equally agreed on two things. First, that we love to travel and if we could afford it, we would travel somewhere, and secondly, that babies do not make good travel companions. They are better at being homebodies.

I wasn’t surprised that as summer approached and people started discussing their plans, I caught more than one surprised glance. “No baby?” they would ask.

No baby.

And you know what? Cheri and I are better parents for it.

Family Fun Night

The other day, we went to a Royals game, again sans-child.

Next to us was a family. Oldest son was about eight and had some interest in the game. Middle boy was probably five and had absolutely no interest in the game. He stared at the people behind them, kicked the railing, paced back and forth. I felt sorry for the kid. He acted as if Dad had never sat him down to watch a game, much less explain to him what is happening.

Toddler son was drinking milk from a sippy cup and when that ran out, it was refilled with Pepsi. (He might have preferred Coke, but it’s a Pepsi-only stadium.)

In my mind, I ask what is the point?

What is the point of dragging kids to events in which they have no interest? What is the point of toting kids along where they will do nothing but wiggle, complain and not even enjoy themselves? Do we as parents think we are making good memories or do we just crave the extra stress involved in this whole ritual?

I didn’t go to my first game until I was probably eight. My parents had a slight interest in baseball, but not so much that they expected to enjoy the game. (Besides, by the early nineties, the Royals were firmly entrenched in a losing legacy.) We got in, watched some baseball and left by the seventh inning before my six-year-old brother started complaining too much.

All I Want For Christmas Is a Magical Childhood

Parents, why do we put ourselves through all of this? Why do we take our kids to Disney World at age three? For all of the stress and money spent, they won’t even remember it. Why do we buy our children elaborate gifts for their first birthdays, when all they really want is the box?

I have an idea about that.

I think a lot of us parents are projecting onto our kids what we think we wanted in our childhood.

We look at our children as a chance to recapture some of our own childhood magic (or make up for a lousy childhood). So we plot these elaborate schemes, trips and events. But kids are kids. They are needy. They are wimpy. Parents, how much time do we spend lowering our expectations before we go through the trouble of all this?

Perhaps the most important question, parents: how many times do we sacrifice the wellbeing of our marriage in a quest to try to make our kids childhood “magical?”

Absence Makes The Heart…

This brings me back to our long weekend away.

My parents never took my brother and I to Disney World. And as for my kid, there are far more important experiences I have planned for him than a day at Disney.

What is important, really important is that Cheri and I stay married. Not just married, but healthily married. That is more important than enduring the stress of taking a baby in the car for three hours. That is more important than the headache of dragging the kid around to places he doesn’t need to be. Our marriage is more important than forcing my projected childhood experiences on him.

If my son’s mom and I do not make it, all the trips to Disney World won’t make up for it.

So, leaving my seven-month-old behind for a few days is about priorities. Leaving him behind makes his mom and me into better parents because good spouses make good parents. We leave to refocus on our marriage and we come back, refreshed and ready for the routine again.

I imagine we will leave him behind quite a few times over the next eighteen years. He won’t mind staying with Grandma and Grandpa for a weekend or his aunt and uncle. We trust them.

If you haven’t tried leaving your kids behind, I highly recommend it.

3 responses to We Left Our Baby Behind, and That Makes Us Good Parents

  1. You’re living my dream, Matt. I’ve never spent a night away from my kids with my husband. I’ve spent nights away by myself for blogging conferences – which I love – but not with my husband. We do our date nights when our kids are at Awana. We don’t live near our parents and they would never watch our three rambunctious kids for any longer than a couple hours anyway. My sister might watch them overnight, but she has her own packed life with a family, a full-time job and getting her degree.

    I agree that kids don’t need as much “stuff” and they’re often happiest with a cardboard box and a stick. But parenting is hard. Deep down we really do want our kids to be happy, so we take them places and do things we think they’ll like and then they just whine the whole time. I wrote a tweet the other day that took me a while to realize: https://twitter.com/KateWhineHall/status/624232936418746368

    I know your main point was to spend time with your spouse away from the kids and I agree with that, but some of the statements you made in the Family Fun Night section seemed a little generalized. It’s almost impossible to find an activity that the entire family enjoys because ages and interests vary. I don’t know if I’ll ever find something we ALL enjoy, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to just stay at home all the time or leave a different child with a sitter every time we do an activity because they might not enjoy it – that sounds like spoiling a child. I can see doing something special for one child and only taking them, but when you have a family of five and four of them want to do the activity, that last kid is just going to have to suck it up. Because next week or month it’ll probably be a different kid who has to suck it up – probably me. Haha!

    But at some point in time they change. They start to enjoy things they once whined about, so you keep taking them to do things hoping they’ll hit that no-whine point. I’ve seen this happen with a few things and It. Is. Glorious.
    Kate Hall recently posted..Whatever you do, DON’T SIT IN THE BUFFER SEAT!

  2. Barbara Dillard July 30, 2015 at 8:12 pm

    I appreciated your post Matt and hear the heart of your message. You are blessed to have family members close and willing to care for your baby. But many in today’s mobile society don’t have the nearby proximity of grandparents or aunts and uncles to care for a child. I’m a grandmother now and able to provide this blessing for my grandchildren but it was never mine to enjoy as a young parent. I’m sure you didn’t intend it, but your assumption that childcare is always available to others was insensitive. Throw in the cost factor for a non-family caregiver and you may as well stay home from a weekend getaway. Babysitters for even a night out is a luxury for some families. Let’s face it, we all by the grace of God do the best we can with the set of circumstances we’ve been given. The longer I live, the more I realize that there is no cookie cutter right or wrong way to raise a family. The church, in my opinion, has inadvertently erred in this area, needlessly burdening parents in a job already difficult. Perhaps when you look back over the years, you like I, may scoff at some of the answers of which you were so sure. Blessings to you and Cheri in this new parenting journey.

    • Thank you for this comment. I originally left reading this post feeling guilty and sad. I thought about it for a couple days and came back to see what the comments were. After chewing on Matt’s thoughts, I had to rest in the grace of Jesus and remind myself that I am a good mom and a good wife doing the best I can. (Deep breath!) Anyway, yes we are a struggling couple raising three very young children nowhere near extended family. Even if we had money to travel, the expense of childcare would make it impossible. But that doesn’t mean my marriage is doomed to fail! I think the best advice to give couples raising young children is to figure out how to do marriage in the midst of parenting. (And that will look different for every family). Marriages succeed or fail in the day to day, the daily grind of living, working, and raising kids, not in the occasional weekend get-away. What works for us is making sure to use our time wisely in those moments when the baby is napping and the olders are playing nicely together. We’ve gotten good at dropping what we are doing to sneak off to the porch swing for some connecting conversations. And we’ve found we really enjoy a peaceful (and frugal) “home-date” after the kids are in bed.