We’ve just got back from an incredibly rare weekend away. Well, I say rare. It is actually the first time since we’ve had kids that we have had two nights in a row away together as a couple. So that is just over 8 years.
Some people I say this to look at me in disbelief, as if as we are insane to have never done it before. I know lots of couples frequently hand their kids over to relatives or friends. But I’ve just never really felt I could do it. It isn’t that they are terrible kids by any measure but circumstances and sheer numbers have made me feel very guilty about even considering palming them off.
We have done one night away together. Once. And we’ve both have the odd night away alone from time to time. But it just isn’t that easy to escape together. Even before we had so many kids, it has always felt impossible. Our first was a tyrant as a baby. He honestly couldn’t have been left with anyone, not if we cared about them surviving the experience. Hell, we could barely handle him ourselves. Although still the king of tantrums, he had calmed down a bit by the age of 4. But by then we had a 1-year old that was utterly obsessed with me. Handing over our tantrum-filled eldest and Mummy-obsessed girl while we went swanning off felt like a cruel joke to play on any grandparent.
And then, of course, there were three. Any potential babysitters became outnumbered. Asking anyone to look after three kids, one of which was a babe in arms, just wasn’t an option. I’m probably a victim of my own very active parental guilt but I couldn’t even bring myself to ask.
But, with the youngest now fast approaching his 3rd birthday, we are finally at a point where we no longer have a baby for the very first time. Having three kids pretty close together, we have always had a very little one, but that is slowly shifting. The mix is getting easier. The eldest is pretty laid back these days and, if he does have a strop, he can be easily placated with tech. The middle one is a very good girl, especially for other people, and can be incredibly helpful. And the toddler? Well, he is still a bloody-minded menace who poos in his pants daily. But he is a charming little menace and can wrap his grandparents round his finger with a well-timed, cheeky smile.
A few months ago I had a moment of realisation that asking their grandparents to take the kids for a whole weekend could finally be coming up on possible. I’d sort of forgotten the fact that kids gradually get easier as they grow and it took me by surprise that my wish for some couple time and the hope that it might be possible had, at long last, started to override my never-ending mother’s guilt and fear of imposing too much. So, when a friend told me about her plans to have a weekend away with her husband, it got me thinking and, for the first time, it seemed like it was something that we could maybe consider.
Don’t misunderstand me. My parents are amazing and probably would have agreed to take any number of kids from us at any point. It was me that wouldn’t have dreamt of asking them until recently. Because I don’t want to cause them too much exhaustion and trouble. Because they have done their time with four kids of their own.
So, I reached the point where asking didn’t seem like such a horrendous imposition. And we did it. And it was bloody brilliant. We remembered what it was like to lie about and do very little – something I admit to being rubbish at before kids but find I can adapt to very rapidly these days. With the weight of the responsibility of kids removed from our shoulders, we found ourselves behaving like a new couple again, giggling and finding ourselves far too funny. In short, we remembered what we were like before. And it was good.
Anyone that has kids to cement their relationship is setting themselves up for disaster. Having a baby is the biggest pressure you can ever put on a couple. Having three has proved to treble it in our case. We were utterly solid before having babies but, during the last eight years, we have been shaken to our very foundations at times.
I never really talk about my relationship with my husband on here because that isn’t what this blog is about, and it is too personal. Suffice to say that there were times I didn’t think we’d survive. We are in a good place these days, as the kids are getting older and the slog is slightly less hard, but the stress has been immeasurable at times.
This weekend has reminded us both that – before our three kids, before the marriage and the mortgage, the swimming fees and the school runs and, crucially, before the exhaustion – we were the very best of mates. We still are. But it tends to be buried and forgotten under the pressures of daily life.
Being the grown-ups in this family, we always come last. We put the needs of our kids first and the needs of ourselves and each other way, way down the list. And then we resent the other one, who we perceive to be having the easier ride. We lash out at the only other person in this family that it is acceptable to lash out at. The one you love enough to have gone on this crazy ride with in the first place.
We are back home now from our wonderful weekend and I still have the floaty, floppy feeling of someone who has been hanging out in bars and spas. And we are both still in it together, laughing conspiratorially at the mishaps, rather than scowling and withdrawing into ourselves a little more with each unreasonable demand from the herd.
I am under no illusion – the floaty feeling will drift off soon – probably round about the third poo-in-pants of the day from the toddler. But I’m hoping to hold onto some of it. Because it is good to be reminded who we are, beyond the roles we have to play. To remember that we chose each other for this crazy journey for a very good reason. That we are still more than just parents and providers. That we can be more than that together. And when we do, it still rocks.
So thank you to my wonderful parents for giving us this time off together. It was very precious indeed. The kids had a riot and I hope they didn’t wear you out too much.
And, since it seems to have worked so well, we might just have to ask you again one day…