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How to Take a Child-Free Trip Without the Guilt

You're tired and you need a vacation. You've worked hard and you've earned it. You talk yourself up into a righteous frenzy—"Damn right, I deserve a vacation!"—and then you look at the hangdog expressions on your children's faces when you suggest going away without them.

I know the struggle. "But I don't want you to goooooo!" my 3-year-old wails when I tell him I'm going to the grocery store. The guilt, oh the guilt, when I announce I'll be gone for an hour to get a pedicure. And yet, I plan and take vacations on my own and I don't have a moment's guilt about it. OK, maybe an occasional moment, but not many, and they can usually be assuaged by a quick rundown of all the reasons I took the vacation in the first place. You can travel child-free and guilt-free too, by keeping a few things in mind.

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1. Kids have no sense of time

Even older kids, who know how to tell time and read a calendar, don't really comprehend the difference between a couple of days and, say, forever. So when you tell them you're going away (and I don't recommend telling them until a day or two at most before the trip), be vague. "I'll be back in a little bit" or "I'll be back soon" is easier than explaining that a week is seven days and you won't be gone for seven days, you'll only be gone for five days, but really it's only four and a third days, with travel … See the problem? Keep it simple.

2. Kids should be on a need-to-know basis when it comes to your vacation

Boring and sleep are two words kids hate. Use them liberally.

They don't need to know you're going to Florida in February to spend as much time napping on the beach as possible. If they ask where you're going and you think it's some place they would also like to go, be vague. "It'll be boring. No TV, no toys, no friends. I'll mostly sleep." Boring and sleep are two words kids hate. Use them liberally.

3. Kids live in the moment

Which means the moment you are packing to walk out the door, they will wail and cling to you, filling your head with all sorts of horrors that will befall them in your absence. Be strong, because this moment will pass. And the next moment? The one where you're driving down the interstate or boarding the airplane? They will have forgotten all about their grief and will be happily watching "Bubble Guppies" with Dad or Grandma. Yeah, they'll miss you. But don't be fooled—they'll do OK without you.

4. Kids love planning for the future

Instead of talking about your trip, talk about what they'll do when you come home. Will they hang decorations? Will there be cake? Let them get excited about your return before you even leave. And if it's in the budget, plan a little family trip for after you come home. Any moments of guilt you might experience while you're gone will be alleviated by knowing you'll all be together having fun when you get back.

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5. Kids need to know you have a life outside of them that doesn't just involve work

This can be a tough concept for children to understand, so you have to show them that Mama likes to have fun, too, and not necessarily with them. But it's not enough to say it, you have to show them to teach them. So go on that trip, plan that adventure. You'll not only be indulging yourself in a much-needed break, you'll be teaching your kids an important lesson about individuality, autonomy, independence and self-care.

One final thought: Once is not enough. Don't take one trip; make it an annual or semi-annual event. Whatever guilt lingers after applying these tips will fade with repetition. If it doesn't, you probably aren't doing it right and should bring me along to act as your life coach.

Image via Twenty20/BrookeFrederick

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