I love my children, I promise; I have written a book on the importance of good parenting, and set up a charity dedicated to the matter. I feel I need to get this out there, now, so that you don’t judge what I’m about to say too harshly.
But is there any greater pleasure than a holiday without your offspring? The lie-ins, the uninterrupted conversations; the way my husband and I don’t need to justify everything we say and, with our sensitive Gen Y-ers and millennials aged 15 to 25, every joke we make. Above all, I love the fact that when my husband, Edward, and I hold hands, we are not subject to a chorus of: ‘That’s literally so grooooossss.’
I am far from alone in relishing the joys of a grown-up getaway, it seems: a recent survey from Families Online, a parenting resource, found that half of us would rather take a break minus our spawn, preferring to leave them with a grandparent or childminder.
‘Planning summer holidays can be stressful and expensive for parents,’ says Faye Mingo, marketing director at the website, adding that: ‘Long flights, drawn-out travel -procedures and worries around safety and taking time out of school are all big considerations for families taking -holidays today.’
How many actually commit to a kid-free trip though, I wonder, and willingly fly in the face of the middle-class consensus that children come first, and thus with you?
It’s a tough trend to buck, as I know from personal experience. But social disapprobation be damned: we started travelling as a twosome from the time our daughter was three, and our sons were 11 and 13. Leaving them with my mother, whose adoration could not be dimmed by sticky fingerprints on antique furniture or trails of biscuit crumbs on her parquet floor, we were congratulating ourselves on how smoothly the goodbyes had gone when we bumped into friends at the airport. ‘Where is Izzy?’ they asked of our toddler. When we explained that she had been left behind, the calls of ‘but she’ll feel abandoned!’ began - as did warnings about the attachment issues our decision would give rise to.
We felt as guilty as if we’d been caught red-handed with someone else’s Yves Saint Laurent cases. Were we heartless and unscrupulous parents who deserved to be on the NSPCC’s ‘most wanted’ list? Were we condemning our daughter to a lifetime of self-doubt and exorbitantly priced therapy sessions by opting to spend almost a week in Venice while she was barely out of nappies?
But the guilt also fuelled a delicious sense of illicit collusion between Edward and me. We were Bonnie and Clyde, stealing some quality time and blowing up parenting nostrums. Our methodically planned five-day trip was transformed into a daring tryst; every minute together took on a thrilling quality. For the first time in years, we felt like lovers rather than parents.
Could something this fun be, well, allowed? I was relieved to hear the experts answer a resounding ‘yes’.
‘Should parents holiday without their children? Absolutely. In fact, parents who never vacation alone are doing their kids a disservice,’ says Annie Pleshette Murphy, a parenting counsellor. ‘What children need more than anything is a family built on the foundation of a strong and loving marriage, but reams of research shows that marital satisfaction declines dramatically once kids come along.
She adds: ‘Too many parents - particularly mothers - put their needs dead last. The result is that many of the couples I see complain that there’s little romance in their relationship.’
With our resolve steeled by expert validation, my husband and I have repeated the adventure every year since, travelling to the beach in the south of France, uninterrupted by pleas to ruin the idyll with rental quad bikes, and visiting every art gallery in Vienna, which could never have happened with three sulky teens in tow. The logistics of leaving them behind have sometimes proved tricky, involving their distribution across the houses of various friends and relatives, but the reproaches and rewards remain a constant.
We can listen patiently to the litany of criticisms because we savour the rich rewards of our holidays without sprogs, and we return from our breaks feeling romanced, but also refreshed. Travelling with a child, we’d learned that every age brings its particular challenges: car sickness, sudden allergies, school holiday fares, foreign food, no wonder so many parents hear the soundtrack of Jaws when they consider the approaching trip - anything could lurk beneath the deceptive calm.
Our holidays a deux have restored my priorities, as well as my nerves. I feel reinstated as the mistress of my own time and my own thoughts. I can do yoga on the balcony without embarrassing the twentysomethings. It is easy to relax when I don’t have to have eyes in the back of my head, and much easier to take in new sights and sounds when my travelling companion can stand by the pool without my fearing he’ll drown, or try out nearby nightspots without my worrying whether the locals might get too handsy.
To those who accuse me of being selfish, I would counter that quantity time is not quality time: sneak a peek at the parents in the hotel, or on the beach, and you’ll see them studying their smartphones while pretending to listen to their children. You’ll hear them snap when they are asked, for the umpteenth time, ‘can you play with me, Mummy?’ Distracted and irritated, no parent is at their best.
You don’t have to cast them away for every trip: as I write, we are sitting al fresco in Italy after a lunch laid on for us by the three children - the middle child dunking the youngest in the swimming pool. This is its own kind of bliss, too.
But even so, never feel guilty about ditching the kids - even if only for a few days - and living the dream. They’ll thank you for it.
Concentrated Parenting: Seven Key Moments in the Lives of Children is published by Amazon Kindle
The Daily Telegraph