We sprawled out in our rented cabana, breathing salt and sun, telling each other how ridiculous this life (of three days) was. The drinks were served, the books were read, the ocean was heard, the skin was tanned.
And our kids? They were back home in the midwest, enduring record freezing temperatures. Their school was canceled five days out of five and the icy air was too hostile for them to even play outside.
Should we feel guilty?
I don’t think so. Vacationing without our kids was not just good for us, it was good for them.
Here is why I think so:
The Ratio of Responsibility and Privilege.
Because we parents are bright, we function inside this concept even if we have never made a conscience decision to do so. This balance is what we lean on to make decisions every day.
When the ratio is proportional, there is peace. And when the ratio is out of whack, it can get ugly. At least in our home. Here are two things that can happen:
Entitlement, when the responsibility is dipping low.
Resentment, when the privilege is.
Let’s talk about the first one for a second.
The attitude of entitlement can trickled down to even our little kids. Younger siblings demand what the bigger kids have access too. The tween is shocked at the restrictions placed on her. All kids everywhere wonder why parents get to stay up late* and eat ice cream in bed.
*10 pm anyone?
Please tell me this is not just my own kids.
As good parents, we have no problem passing out benefits, giving liberty and granting access, when it’s due. We pass out Yeses, arrange playdates, invite kids into the kitchen to wear their chef’s hat, sign permission slips and watch them use much too much jam on their toast. We grant small permissions all day long.
When we fail to raise the level of responsibility to the same height, that is when things get dicey.
It is like our kids flying kites. The tug of their kite flying high in the breeze is a pleasure. But it is accompanied by their responsibility to control it; to pay attention, to hang on. We would not hand the string of a large kite to a toddler; the privilege would outweigh the responsibility.
Junior gets his license and now has the privilege of meeting his friends for wings and driving separately to the Sunday service. Therefore, his responsibility must also rise to the occasion. He drives his siblings to school in the oh-so-hot mini-van. He keeps the gas tank full. He keeps up on all previous chores at home.
We try to keep the ratio close, don’t we?
On the other hand, Resentment can happen when privilege is dipping low.
For some of us, this end can be the harder one to navigate. As our kids mature and their capacity increases, we require more of them. And we should. What parent isn’t passing off the dog walking/cat poop scooping chores as soon as they can?
Wise parents are aware of the rising level of responsibility and introduce benefits to accompany them. When we see snarky attitudes and deep-seated frustration from our kids, we might want to revisit the ratio. Of course, the grouchies could also be because of hormones, missed naps, someone looking at them, a vegetable in the house or a tag they don’t like. We know those kids.
Responsibility is the ying to Privileges’ yang.
What does this have to do with a husband and wife vacationing without their sweet ‘lil things?
My husband is a potato farmer. Our fall harvest season resembles chaos as he works eighteen hour days and I single parent seven kids through four sports and returning to the public school routine. His spring season is also very busy, and let’s be honest, so is his summer.
Our ratio is elephant-heavy on Responsibility most of the year. Which means: it is our PRIVILEGE to sit on the beach and eat fish tacos and recharge. All the praise hands.
Does this mean that we never take our kids on vacation or give them good things they did not earn?
I would never suggest that. Ok, maybe on a really bad day.
But it does free us from parental guilt that tries to take the joy out of bedtime ice cream and ocean-side fish tacos. Guilt is a jerk and a liar and we don’t have to go there.
When the day comes that our kids have the same level of duty and obligation that we do, then maybe we can feel terrible for not including them on every trip.
Of course, that probably won’t happen until they have children of their own. By then, they will be asking us to watch their kids so they can sprawl in cabanas.
And we will probably be thrilled to do it.