It may seem unusual to be thinking about romance in the context of family travel. Travel with kids often feels like the least romantic travel of all, a tectonic break from the carefree, sexy jaunts you enjoyed with your partner not so long ago. And while it’s true that lugging strollers, ordering chicken fingers, and cleaning up kid messes are about as seductive as a fanny pack, keeping a little spice in the relationship — even on your family trip — is not just important. It’s actually doable.
There’s never enough time, but you still have to make it.
One of the biggest challenges of parenthood is the lack of time. Parents are often stretched thin, trying to manage their own schedules and those of their busy kids, making space for self-care, and, for many, juggling work as well.
“So much is needed from us. You feel like you can’t afford the time,” says Krisitin Donato, a San Francisco Bay Area marriage and family therapist on the effort it sometimes takes to focus on your partner. Yet the self-described “relationship enthusiast” adds, “You can’t afford not to. The time you make is the sunshine in your relationship.”
And, of course, vacations are the perfect moment to make that time. If you find it hard to take that time in your daily schedule, a vacation could be the reminder you need that carving out that time is vital for your relationship, even if the kids are in tow.
Kids want to see happy parents.
It’s not just okay to take some time to focus on your partner; it’s actually a good thing to do. You may feel like all your attention should be on your children — particularly if you’ve chosen a kid-centric vacation destination like the beach or an amusement park. There’s plenty of research showing that healthy relationships within a household are good for kids. So you’re doing your kids a favor by letting them sense that you and your partner care for each other.
Donato adds yet another aspect to the idea that happy parents are good for kids since she says that kids need to see that adulthood is something to look forward to. It’s one thing for them to know that their parents are in love. It’s another for them to look forward to being adults themselves. Studies have shown that stressed-out teens who see overworked, stressed-out parents feel like they don’t have much to look forward to.
“Always model to your kids that mom and dad need a moment together to enjoy each other as adults. It’s so important,” says Donato. “It’s imperative that you show your kids that it’s fine to have fun.”
Be intentional and plan it ahead of time.
Planning a family vacation is a big deal for most families, and it takes a lot of work to take that time off, notes Donato. Most families take only one big trip a year, or maybe some long weekends. That’s all the more reason to plan ahead to include some romance. “When you go on vacation, one of the things you can do is set the intention — before you go,” says Donato.
The planning could consider sleeping arrangements and ways that you might have some alone time together. Even if a separate hotel room is too expensive, perhaps you can choose a small one where you can go to the lobby bar after the kids go to sleep. The more important point is to decide together that romance will be part of your family travels, in whatever form it takes.
Romance can be as simple as holding hands.
Including a bit of romance in your family vacation doesn’t need to mean hiring an expensive babysitter and playing hooky from parenting for a night. It can even happen in the throes of your day with the kids. If you’ve been navigating the lines and crowds and the Epcot Center and finally had a moment to sit down, you should just take the time to look in your partner’s eyes and show your appreciation. To note that you are there together and to appreciate your kids’ joy.
If you’re on a hiking vacation, slow down and let your child run ahead of you as you and your partner hold hands. If the kids are all seated at dinner, Donato says you could take the time to walk outside and look at the sunset — just you and your partner.
Seize the moment.
Considering that time is such a scarce resource for parents, it’s important to seize the moment. In the same way that you should intentionally plan to include some romance before you even leave home for your family getaway, you should purposefully have those romantic moments — even if you’d really rather just fall asleep.
“You’ve got to make time for physical affection,” says Donato. “Don’t wait to want to. Don’t wait to want to hug them. Don’t wait to want to pop a quickie — especially on vacation.”
Should you be at an all-inclusive resort, say, and you both realize that your children are at an activity downstairs and you have 20 minutes to yourself, use them. Those moments can lift your mood, says Donato: “Say to yourselves, we’re going to sneak in moments to pretend that we are who we were before we had kids together.”
Romance doesn’t need to mean sex.
The reality is that you may actually not get to have sex with your loved one on your vacation with the kids. Perhaps you’re all staying in the same hotel room. But as we’ve noted here, romance is also about acknowledging and appreciating your partner. You can still snuggle, spoon, or stroke your partner’s hair once you have finally gotten the kids to sleep and climbed into bed yourselves. There is a world of difference between that and quick goodnight peck before you pass out from exhaustion. There are many ways to show your partner that you are also their lover — even without the actual act.
Although sex might not happen, sexy moments still can. Donato says she always brings tealights with her on her travels. On a vacation in Southern California with their three kids some years ago, Donato said the family all stayed in one big room at a cheap Disneyland hotel. But she had brought the candles with her, and after the kids were asleep she and her husband were able to sit out on the balcony on cheap plastic chairs. They opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed the SoCal evening together.
As we noted above, in some hotels you can sneak down to the lobby for a drink and a chat over a glass of wine. You can even bring a baby monitor down to the lobby, if that puts your mind at ease. While sleep may be a temptation, take the time to have that moment together away from the kids.
Also, take selfies of the two of you. Of course, you should also take as many photos of your kids — and of yourselves with them — as possible. But take selfies of you two as well, so when you look back at the trip you can remember that it was a great family trip that the two of you enjoyed as a couple, as well.
Take a walk.
Maybe you’re at a relative’s house for Easter, Thanksgiving, or another holiday. Romance might understandably be low on your list of priorities, but you can still take advantage of the relatives to spend some alone time. While the kids are playing a board game with grandma, the two of you could also take a walk around the block, admiring the foliage and holding hands. It’s just a moment away that belongs to the two of you — which only adds to the enjoyment of your family holiday for everyone.
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