No matter how much time you spend with your kids, you never truly know them until you leave them. Recently, I went with my husband to Northern California. Savoring solo days in a bungalow with nearly deserted hikes along the shore was blissful. Of course, we discussed returning with the kids because as traveling moms know, though you revel in time away, your thoughts are never far from home. Following those peaceful days was a water polo weekend with my husband’s college buddies, as they proved they can still pull off wearing speedos and winning tournaments.
But the week before the trip was anxiety-filled and stressful. With four kids whose ages range from “still-cuts-his-own-hair-with-kiddie-scissors” to “licensed-driver-with-a-summer-job,” covering the bases required comprehensive lists and spreadsheets. Family members stepped in as my sister came over each night to keep an eye on the bigger kids and my sister-in-law kept my youngest to be happily distracted by his cousins. Coordinating was challenging, especially when my oldest, who just completed Six Flags training, received his schedule the night before we left. He worked every day that week but one. There went my chauffeur as I scrambled to find coverage.
There were moments I rationalized waiting 12 years until my youngest goes to college for us to take a solo trip. Granted, much of the stress and anxiety was self-imposed, and when I stripped emotion from logic, missing out on time with my husband would be a regrettable mistake. So we went, everything worked out, and by the virtue of being away from my kids, I saw more of who they are.
- Telling my children we didn’t have cell coverage along the coast, but neglecting to alert them when we were back in the coverage zone, prompted them to problem solve themselves. A dozen calls a day dwindled to occasional emails as our nightly check-ins were enough.
- The tattling and complaining resumed before we even finished our round of Welcome Home hugs, (they hadn’t magically matured in our absence, they merely sucked it up and saved it all for us). But as their mother and safe place, I expected nothing less.
- Guess what? My kids CAN wake up to their alarm clocks. When missing alarms means explaining an absence to the football coach or missing swim team with cousins, natural consequences got them out of bed. Well, that, or the new Sonic Boom Alarm that can wake neighbors within a 2 block radius and literally shakes kids out of bed. Either way, they got up.
- My children ate every day, even if the quick, easy meals that I left behind (and the lists on how to prepare them) went untouched. Who knows what they ate… to be honest, for one long weekend, who cares?
- My 16-year old survived his first week of employment running the Batman ride. He woke up, got to work each day, and even kept his uniform clean. Phone updates aren’t how I expected to share in my oldest’s first days on the job, but he seamlessly joined the ranks of the employed with no interference from me.
- Finally, when my little guy watched the Ballwin Days fireworks and ran into his siblings (whom he hadn’t seen for days), a meltdown ensued. But every one of his siblings stepped up, dried his tears, and sent him happily back to his cousins’ house. Words can’t describe my joy when the photo of my four kids together hit my inbox.
Knowing my kids took care of themselves and each other was the highlight of our week and if I’d given into my fears and exaggerated stressors, I never would have witnessed such capability and compassion in my kids. I know them more thoroughly because I glimpsed their self-sufficiency, which often lays dormant in our presence.
For the days I curse under my breath when it seems my children will never be responsible, or times I may curse not quite under my breath as it seems they will never peacefully coexist, this insight was reassuring. As parents, sometimes we need to step back and get out of the way so our kids can step up. Their self-confidence soars, and as parents, our pride does, too.