Take A Holiday Without Your Children And Reclaim Your Relationship

14/08/2014 17:02 | Updated 20 May 2015


Have a good look at your partner. A long, hard look. When they're not looking at you. Which, if you've got three kids, as we have, is easy to do.

While he's snoring in front of the cricket, perhaps. Or she's wrestling with a brush to make her bad hair day good.

While he's groaning when he gets up from the armchair. While she's moaning when, er, someone has forgotten to replenish the toilet rolls.

When he's emptying the dishwasher through gritted teeth. When she's ironing the kids' uniforms with a glaze over her pupils.

When he looks at his watch as he hurries you along. As she stares at the clock as you return from the throng of the pub. Late. Again.

As he plays with the children, but never with you. As she cuddles the kids, kisses their foreheads, tells them she loves them, but forgets about you.

Have a good look at your partner and ask yourself this: "What do I see in him? How did I fall for her? Is this all there is? There has to be more. Surely to God. There has to be more."

No time for each other, only time for the kids. When you're in one room helping with homework or plastering a knee, she's in the other, de-lousing their hair or making their tea.

Weekends are spent ferrying one kid to here, another to there. Hosting a friend of the oldest, then a pal of the youngest, whilst trying to keep the middle child entertained in between.

And then there's the chores. Life by tick box. Dishwasher emptied. Tick. Washing machine loaded. Tick. Book bags packed. Tick. Dusting, vaccing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, sorting, picking up, putting away. Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, effing tick.

Sometimes, you look at your partner with pleading eyes, but she can't help, because she's part of the grind: the need to take care of the children you love, who you'd die for and worship, despite all their fuss.

Does any of this remind you of you? Does any of it ring true? Do you feel like you give out but never take back? Do you feel like you've lost yourself somewhere, deep in the family pack?

I did. So did my wife. We'd become strangers living under the same roof. Parents - not the people we'd fallen for a dozen years ago.

So we decided to do something about it, to stop the whirligig of our duties and get off.

For one weekend only, we took a sabbatical from our three kids, aged 12, nine and six: a break from everything that goes with loving them and living with them and caring for them and making sure they're clean and fed and healthy and happy and educated and entertained and safe and carefree.

For one weekend only, we decided to be selfish. For one weekend only, we decided to be lovers, not mum and dad. And went to Paris.

Unfortunately, this was not as simple as those four words sound.

Like a military operation, it needed some long-term planning – a year, in fact.

First of all, we needed someone to look after our precious brood. Grandparents were out of the question (too far away, too doddery, too much of an imposition); friends with kids had enough on their plates to take on our children (besides, they'd want us to return the favour at some point!); so we turned to our childless-by-choice mates.

The only downside of the latter was that they have demanding careers and hectic social lives, which meant they were booked up for pretty much every weekend for nearly 12 months! (Can you imagine? Oh, the luxurious freedom!).

Next, it was working out a budget, booking the Eurostar, sorting the hotel. All falling off a log stuff for the organised house dad.

And as the weekend loomed, making sure the fridge and cupboards were filled with every conceivable breakfast, lunch, picnic, dinner, snack, treat and dessert option imaginable – and that was just for the babysitters!

Then there was tidying the house (didn't want them to think we lived in a pig sty), changing the kids' beds (didn't want to think the kids slept in their own stinking filth), laying out fresh bedding (even though I'd only changed ours a few days earlier) and towels (the youngest blows his nose on them).

But our biggest concern was how our children would react when we told them (well in advance) that we'd be leaving them with our friends (friends they know and love, by the way, not just a random couple we'd met down the pub).

On the morning of our departure, our friends arrived promptly at 9am and we handed over the keys. Would the kids sob hysterically? Cling to our ankles as we dragged ourselves towards the front door? Strop off to their rooms to make us feel guilty?

Well, it might have at least been respectful if they had – because all they did was wish us a nice time, before the six-year-old chirped: "See you in two days."

Which, to be honest, was the perfect send off because it stopped us feeling guilty and made us snap into the mode we'd be craving for a whole year: to be a couple again, and not just Mum and Dad.

I will spare you the details of our weekend, for they shall forever remain exclusive between me and my wife, but know this: despite the fact we kept in touch with our children via text, and our friends kept us updated on what they got up to via pictures posted to the Cloud (cinema to see The Lego Movie; bowling; adventure playground, picnics in the park etc, etc) we didn't miss them.

Thought about them, yes; talked about them, rarely. We knew they were safe, we knew they were independent spirits, secure in their skins. But for two whole blissful days and nights, we didn't actually miss them in a pining 'we've made a big mistake' guilt-riddled kind of way.

But by Sunday morning, after two days of eating, drinking and walking the life out of Paris, we were sated as a couple: we were ready to be Mum and Dad again.

And on the Eurostar back, we started to fantasise about the Grand Reunion. The kisses, the cuddles, the daft chats and funny games. The quirks of their personalities. Yes, we were missing them now, big time.

They were what gave our relationship meaning. They were what made our sabbatical all the more special because – even though we enjoyed every second of it, we agreed we wouldn't want to do it every weekend (perhaps every six months, though!).

We texted our friends with our ETA, told them not to tell the kids so that we could surprise them.

They texted back that they were having a picnic in the park, so we dropped our bags back home, then headed over.

"Can't wait to see their little faces," my wife said.

"Can't wait to give them these bon-bon-stuffed Eiffel Towers we've bought them," I added.

We saw them in the distance, before they saw us, playing 'Catch' with a ball they'd made from tin foil (seriously).

My wife and I looked at each other and smiled: those three little horrors were the product of our love: the love we'd just re-kindled in Paris.

By now, we were almost running towards them until, eventually, they saw us. And carried on playing. No Grand Reunion. No Big Deal.

Twenty minutes later, I was giving them their tea and loading the dishwasher while their mum set up the ironing board to sort out their clothes for school the next day.

Then as I helped the middle child with his homework and my wife helped her daughter with her revision, we glanced at each other across the kitchen and a smile crept to the corners of our mouths.

And we both thought: "We'll always have Paris."

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