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I got remarried, and I'm raising 3 boys in a blended family. Kid-free travel helps us bond as a couple.

Sara Lyle   

I got remarried, and I'm raising 3 boys in a blended family. Kid-free travel helps us bond as a couple.
  • Sara Lyle and her husband both went through divorces and now have shared custody of three sons with their exes.
  • They let off parental stress by getting away without the kids — a tactic recommended by experts as well.

Last Christmas, my youngest son got me a "Wonder Mom" coffee mug from his school's holiday fair. It's red and blue with yellow stars and makes me smile whenever I see it in the cupboard. While I appreciate the sweet gesture, the gift didn't come with any superpowers. If it did, they would come in handy on school days. Allow me to explain.

My husband and I are raising a blended family with three boys — 8, 13, and 15 — who each go to a different school with slightly different start times. We have one car, so ensuring they arrive before the last bell rings requires Swiss time-keeping precision.

To beat the clock, I get up at 6:30 a.m. and head downstairs to cook breakfast for the five of us while my husband takes care of waking up the kids. Most mornings, I make a few variations of breakfast because we have a mix of picky eaters and food allergies to accommodate, and I want to make sure they have something healthy-ish in their stomachs before leaving. There are medications and vitamins to remember, school IDs and water bottles to pack, and the dog needs to be fed, too.

Once the boys are off, my husband leaves for work, and I get started on my to-dos from the home office. After school, there are pickups, extracurricular activities, dinner, and bedtimes to juggle. My husband and I finally take off for the night around 9:30 p.m., assuming there isn't any last-minute laundry to do.

Parental burnout is on the rise

We aren't the only ones with a schedule like this — to say nothing of dealing with work, financial and other pressures — which is why it makes sense that parental burnout is so high.

A 2023 study by the American Psychological Association found that parents of children under 18 reported a significant increase in stress levels compared to pre-pandemic times. To be exact, 33% of parents now rate their stress between 8 and 10 on a 10-point scale, a 9% increase since 2019.

The APA also looked at the impact of parental burnout and recommended various strategies to "enhance resilience in parenting" such as going on vacations without the children or simply taking "microbreaks" throughout the day. This can be as simple as listening to a guided meditation in the car after running an errand.

While the microbreaks idea was a new one that I might try, my husband and I were already well-acquainted with the relationship-strengthening remedy of getting away sans kids. It makes me a better mom, too. Here's what I mean.

A balance of family vacations and solo getaways

Since my husband and I blended our households last year, we've been intentional about doing activities and outings with all three of the boys to create family memories and build some lifelong bonds.

So far, we've gone on some fun ones, including a long weekend in Colorado Springs for our wedding with the boys last summer. This fall, we're looking forward to a Caribbean cruise for a nephew's wedding.

However, between orchestrating the travel logistics to refereeing flare-ups along the way, it can feel like we need a vacation from our family vacation when we get home.

Then, there are the realities of reentry: unpacking everything you packed before, washing the dirty clothes, putting away the laundry and luggage, and catching up on all the other stuff you missed while you were away. For us, multiply that by five.

Getting away as a couple? It's a comparative breeze. Even just staying for a Friday or Saturday night in nearby Denver allows us to reconnect and recharge, making us better able to handle the ups and downs of modern-day parenting.

We weren't together, pre-kids

My husband and I were never a couple before having kids; we were with other partners. Now, because we share custody with our exes, there are times we are without all three of our sons. Missing them can be tough, but we cherish the opportunities we have to be as "cringe-y" as we want — a term used by our youngest regarding too much PDA — and have some non-parental fun.

Spring break this year was a blast, for example. We spent half the time soaking up the Florida sunshine, seeing family and friends in our shared hometown. Then, we hopped over to New Orleans to enjoy the French Quarter revelries and basically eat our way around town — minus any dietary restrictions from the kids.

Last fall was another adventure, hitting the streets of my old stomping grounds in New York City for five days. Stay up late, wake up late, rinse, and repeat. They don't call it the city that never sleeps for nothing.

Sure, there are heart-twinging moments when we think about the boys — what they might enjoy or find overwhelming about where we're visiting — but we wouldn't trade our kid-free trips for anything.

We learn about ourselves

One of my favorite things about travel, in general, is coming back a whole new person. Getting out of your comfort zone can transform the way you think or see the world. I have experienced this phenomenon in varying degrees at different times in my life, from the summer in high school when I stayed with a friend's family in France to the seven years my son and I lived in Singapore and had the chance to travel around Southeast Asia.

There are so many places my husband and I want to visit together, and we're eager to cross them off our now-shared bucket list.

Speaking of the list, we realize we probably have fewer years ahead of us than behind us, and we aren't waiting for retirement to enjoy the here and now. It's also wonderful to know I can explore the world with my favorite person at my side, holding my hand.

Traveling without our kids is not about abandoning ship, it's about refilling our cups. Child-free vacations might not be an option for everyone, but even a staycation can do wonders.

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