Can You Go On A Romantic Holiday – And Take Your Kids, Too?

We celebrated our five-year anniversary by booking a lovely little beach-house... for four.

My husband and I are bombing down the motorway on a day so rainy the windscreen wipers are actually worsening visibility. I’m bundled in the back seat between our toddler and preschooler, keeping the peace by blasting out a Baby Shark remix so shrill from my phone that I’m 99% sure it’s a sonic weapon the government is surreptitiously testing on YouTube.

And where are we off to? A romantic beach holiday. Yes, in the pouring rain. Yes, with our kids in tow. Let me explain.

My husband and I have never just been just husband-and-wife. We’ve always been parents. I was five months pregnant with our first son when we married, and our second son joined us just two years later, so there have never not been children in the mix.

And we do not have peaceable children. Sweet and kind children, yes; happy, playful, affectionate and respectful, absolutely. But children who quietly amuse themselves while you get on with something else? Not a bit of it. You cannot do a single thing in their presence – cook a meal, load a dishwasher, type anything that isn’t the word “elephant” – without them begging endlessly to get involved.

Robyn and her 'fearless toddler'.
Robyn and her 'fearless toddler'.

This, along with the tiny acts of bankruptcy involved in shelling out for a proper evening out and childcare, means we’ve had to adopt novel approaches to “grown-up time” – and by novel I mean occasionaly throwing our children at a relative for an hour or two and dashing out for dinner at whichever fast food joint is a) fastest and b) closest. We’ve also developed an unspoken agreement that the ‘enjoying each other’s company’ part of our relationship is basically on hold until the kids are both in school.

I know. It’s no way to live. So, in a fit of madness, we decided to celebrate our five-year anniversary by booking two nights in a lovely little clapboard house right on the shingle of a Sussex beach – and we decided to take the kids, too.

Our anniversary actually passed us both by several months before. But this way, we figured, we could take the kids rock-pooling and paddling in the surf during the day, then once they were asleep, spend the evenings on the deck, drinking champagne and watching the tide roll out. Perfect, we thought. A perfect plan.

“Kid wrangling was so exhausting all we could manage in the evening was a single beer between us before sloping off to bed.”

Of course, we didn’t account for the rain. Or the Baby Shark mood-killer. Or the fact that, once we arrived, neither kid was interested in rock-pooling or surf-slashing. Or spending any time together at all. Our older son was glued to the trampoline at the back of the house with his father, while I was stuck beach-side using every ounce of physical strength I had to prevent our fearless toddler from plunging headfirst into the deep salt-water lagoon between house and sea.

We didn’t account for the kids being so disorientated by the change of scenery that my husband and I had to split up so that each could share a bed with a parent. Or that, the following day I’d get a work email and have to lock myself away with my laptop for the morning. Or that wrangling the kids all day would be so exhausting that all we could manage in the evening was a single beer between us before sloping off to bed by 8pm.

Robyn and her husband reflecting on their travel choices.
Robyn and her husband reflecting on their travel choices.

So much for a romantic break. On the final day, I awoke to a gorgeous peachy light filtering in over the sea – but a heavy heart. I’d been so intent on making this work as a romantic holiday rather than a family one, that I’d been too tired to enjoy the family bit, and too tired to indulge in romance. And now it was over.

Then I realised that we’ve never been good at romantic holidays. Yes, we got engaged in Iceland, but it was during an argument in a car park after all our romantic plans fell through (the Northern Lights entirely failed to show up). On a weekend break in Sweden my husband lost his wallet. I sprained my ankle on our honeymoon, and on the short break to Belgium we took as a second “mini” honeymoon, fell over in a chocolate shop (while pregnant!) and cracked a rib.

Why did I think we’d suddenly become good at this sort of thing now we had the added pressures of both being freelancer – with two tiny people in tow?

Luckily, the owner of the beach house is a working mum, and she took pity on my plight. “Stay all day if you like,” she advised by text. So we did. And with all this extra time and no expectations, suddenly I started to enjoy myself more. Having acclimatised for a couple of days, the kids were happier to run around on their own for a bit, which gave the adults time to chat.

Maybe we’re not romantic holiday sort of people, we concluded. Maybe we should just try to relax and appreciate what we have. So we did. We ate fish and chips, mooched about, collected shells, and went down to the sea’s edge as a family to throw stones into the water. Which was romantic in its own way.

This was a couple of months ago, now, and two major things have happened since then. First, my husband and I have started going off on tiny jaunts together, when our childcare allows. And secondly, we’ve started looking for a new house. A new house right on the beach.

• Robyn and her family stayed courtesy of Cabins and Castles.