Am I allowed a child-free holiday?

My husband and I have been talking a lot lately about his upcoming trip. His workplace requires him to travel a few times annually and, as usual, we've marked his away dates on the calendar several weeks ahead so our two sons, aged seven and five, can get used to the idea of not seeing him for a week. It also gives me enough lead time to stock up on frozen meals and prepare mentally for the long days and nights of solo-parenting which will soon descend upon me. Usually my husband speaks matter-of-factly about meetings on his itinerary and how many spare shirts he'll pack. But this time, there's excitement in his voice. Because after business is complete, he will extend his stopover in Singapore for a four day holiday. He's been chatting giddily about devouring bowls of spicy laksa, having drinks with friends and family, and shopping for gadgets. He can't wait to do only as he pleases for four whole days.

I'm trying to share his excitement, I really am. This will be the first time since we met that he's had a holiday on his own. And he only arranged it because he's been longing to visit Singapore and it seemed like a golden opportunity to do so since he'll be passing through on business. I don't want to begrudge him this getaway. After all, he works hard, does his fair share of dishwashing, channels large amounts of energy into keeping the boys and me happy. He deserves a break.  

But there's a touch of resentment that's actually been gnawing at me for years. It started a few months after the birth of our first child when my husband returned from a staff retreat with a tale of the poolside barbecue he'd enjoyed whilst I'd been at home nibbling crackers and nursing our baby through a bout of diarrhoea. I know there are tribulations he endures during every work trip, like the flustering task of finding his way to meetings in unfamiliar cities. But often when he reappears with his suitcase, all I can focus on is the fact that while I'd been wrangling tantrums and the bogeyman, he'd had the freedom to unwind in peaceful hotel rooms with no responsibility for anyone else's bath and bed times. Time and again I've felt like slamming the door in his face instead of welcoming him back.

"Maybe after a taste of freedom I'd return with a relaxed smile that's been missing for a while."
"Maybe after a taste of freedom I'd return with a relaxed smile that's been missing for a while." Photo: Getty

And now he's not only travelling for work, he's going on a holiday without the kids. This is something I've never experienced since becoming a parent. Although I've had a few child-free hours here and there to have dinner out or watch a movie, I haven't spent one night away from my children (the time in hospital away from my oldest whilst birthing my youngest doesn't count). Increasingly over the years, I've felt like a restless zoo animal pacing the borders of my enclosure, trapped within my role as the one who's always left behind.

But if I'm honest, my confinement is largely self-imposed: I'm a master at justifying why I can't get away. For instance, for the first two years of my youngest son's life, I just had to be there every night to breastfeed him, so fearful was I that he wouldn't sleep otherwise. Sometimes I imagine my sons as grownups in therapy, bemoaning how scarred they are because I went away one weekend and wasn't there to offer cuddles after their roughest day ever. Other times I fear my mother-in-law (the only other caregiver we trust) will be overwhelmed if left alone with the boys overnight. Also, since our family now survives on one fulltime income, I tend to condemn child-free getaways for me as an unnecessary, self-indulgent luxury.

However, after seeing my husband's face light up when discussing his upcoming holiday, I'm starting to wonder if I'm too hard on myself. Maybe the kids and whoever's caring for them could survive for a night or two without me. And maybe after a taste of freedom I'd return with a relaxed smile that's been missing for a while.

This seemed to be the case for a Facebook friend who updated her account recently with a photo of herself and four besties around a table with cocktails. They all looked stunning in makeup and new evening attire. But what really made them gorgeous were their wide, easy grins, full of joy as they partied whilst little ones were far away in the care of partners or grandparents. And the accompanying caption said it all: "Girls weekend = soul food."        

My soul craves that, too. Not necessarily a weekend with the girls but a break to get reacquainted with the simple joy of rolling lazily out of bed instead of bolting upright at dawn when my sons begin leaping and wailing. I long to go somewhere sans children and indulge in what I want to do without interruptions. And I'm not afraid to admit it anymore.

So last night, I took my spouse aside and told him that I need a getaway. He agreed immediately that it's a brilliant idea and began helping me look into hotels and the availability of his mother to babysit. The wheels are in motion and some relaxing nights of grownup freedom will soon be mine. The first step was convincing myself that I can and should do it.