WHEN MY SON was two, I ventured out on my first international trip without him. I was flying across the Atlantic Ocean, headed toward Paris, my first destination in a ten-day jaunt around Europe. I was unsure how I’d feel, and what other people would say when they learned I’d left my toddler home so I could travel. It’s so hard not to worry about what other people are thinking in such a social media-driven world. Will they judge me? Will they think I’m a bad parent for leaving him stateside? Should I have brought him? Those are just a few of the thoughts that crossed my mind as I crossed over the ocean. The self-reflecting I did on this first journey alone made me realize a few things.
1. I need time to reconnect with who I am as a person.
Just because I had a child at a young age, doesn’t mean that I suddenly grew up ten years. I was only 22 when I had my son. I still had a lot of life left to live. I became a parent, and suddenly people thought I shouldn’t be myself anymore. But I was still a young 20-something trying to figure out who I was as a person. And whether I’m 22, or 32, or 42, I will always be discovering new things about myself. The beautiful thing about travel is that it allows me to continually learn about who I am as a person. I can reconnect with myself in a way that’s just not possible when I’m at home with a toddler.
2. I don’t buy that as a parent your life has to be all about the kids.
Let’s be honest, your life will be consumed by Disney channel, strawberry-banana squeeze pouches, and grilled cheese when you become a parent. Between changing diapers, potty training, teaching the little monster their ABCs, and fighting them over the littlest things, your life won’t feel like your own anymore. And while it’s okay to give 110% to your child, I don’t think it’s okay to completely forget about your own needs. Some people need to get out of the house and get a mani-pedi. Some people need to go to the gym and sweat it out. Me? I need to hop on a plane and immerse myself in another culture. It’s the only way I stay sane.
3. I need to feel grounded.
Do you ever have those days where a tiny person is screaming at you and you’ve tried everything in your power to get them to listen and it JUST. WON’T. WORK? Yeah, I’ve been there — a lot. When the world is spinning and my anxiety feels ten-fold, the only way to calm myself down is traveling. Thinking about my next destination and how many days until I take off allows me to stay grounded. I take a deep breath, look at the calendar, and feel a bit better about the present. I don’t have to reach into my purse and take an anxiety pill. The anxiousness is gone the minute I think about my next trip.
4. I’m reminded that relationships that I have with other people besides my child matter significantly, too.
Sometimes I forget that I have friends. Seriously. Between carting the kiddo to daycare and soccer, it rarely occurs to me that I haven’t carted myself over to my best friend’s house for wine in approximately 900 years. Being able to meet other human beings who aren’t 2 feet tall and needy as hell is therapeutic. It’s fun. Fun is something I rarely feel like I see anymore. It’s table dancing in Rome during a pub crawl. It’s going on a Tinder date to a beach bar in Vienna. It’s hiking Arthur’s Seat with my travel friends on a windy day. These are things I can’t do in the states that I get to do when I’m traveling without my son.
5. I want my child to be inspired by my travels.
I want to be a role model for my child. I want to be the mom my son talks to his school friends about and says, “Well, my mommy went to the Eiffel tower and she showed me the coolest pictures. I’m going to go there too someday.” Giving my son that kind of inspiration is exactly the kind of parent I want to be. Since my first trip abroad, my son has been completely obsessed with the Eiffel tower. Every time he sees a globe, he asks me to point out Paris so he can see where the Eiffel tower is located. He talks about going to Paris like it’s a special treat that mommy will someday give him. Over the years, I’ve showed him pictures of my travels and I relive them with him. I tell him all the beautiful places he will go someday too, if he wants. And when he’s older and will fully enjoy the experience, the Eiffel tower will be the first place on my list of destinations to take him.
I have every intention of showing my child the world, in time. But I will always remember to make time for myself and my first love. The world has some amazing things to teach us, and just because I’ve become a parent, doesn’t mean I’m going to stop listening.