My visions of what family life would look like while my baby was cooking inside of me did not match up with the reality of what happened when he (and later, his siblings) arrived. The scenes that commercials and advertisements planted in my brain, which made my uterus dance, didn’t seem to exist in the real world.
So after having my first baby and looking forward to the picture that had been painted by these professional actresses, I felt disappointed that I never actually laid on my fluffy sofa reading a book with a hot cup of coffee as he slept for three hours in his frilly bassinet next to me as the autumn breeze floated gently through my spacious house.
In real life, I would finally get him to sleep and immediately be afraid to move. I would lie there like a board, unable to relax. I was always worried I might sneeze, god forbid I had to pee, and holy shit, I would drop my book as soon as I got settled. My semi-peaceful three seconds came to an end, and I would start the dance of trying to get him back to sleep all over again, which resulted in my tears mixing with his as I stared longingly at the sofa.
Like the visions I had of having one child, it is safe to say the visions I had of our growing family never came to fruition either. The sweet playing that lasted for hours, the dreamy time we would have decorating the Christmas tree, or frolicking through the woods to the park never happened without epic meltdowns, a blowout, and someone losing their shit because their brother looked at them wrong or touched their rock.
Of course these magical moments happen; they just come in little snippets, and never last very long, but we all dream really big. Our world is always perfect in our fantasies: There aren’t any blowouts at our favorite Mexican restaurant, the adults are eating nachos, and the lovely hostess gives the children crayons that they don’t eat or throw at each other. She comes back to tell us what a wonderful job we are doing and how well-behaved our kids are, while serving flan for dessert, and no one cries because they wanted ice cream instead.
The truth is, having a family is rewarding, but it is also really fucking hard to keep everyone happy at the same time for more than three seconds. So after spending over a decade trying to do the impossible, I decided it was time to let go of my unrealistic expectations and not force so much togetherness on my family. It was hard to come to terms with this. We are a family, shouldn’t we spend the weekend together? What kind of family goes their separate ways during a vacation? A happy family, that’s who. Sometimes enjoying ourselves means splitting up, even during special occasions, and that is okay.
My husband and oldest son love to ride bikes and ski. They are hardcore and will go all day, while my two younger ones are good for an hour or two and then they are done and would rather go shopping, swim in the hotel pool, take a hike or walk on the beach, or sit in a coffee shop and play “I spy” and eat cookies instead (they take after me), so that is what we do.
And holy shit, we are all happier — especially me because I don’t have to listen to my kids fight, which usually leads to me wanting to call off our splendid family vacation and head for the hills, never to be seen again.
And when we do all meet up again, it’s a lot more splendid than it is when we are together all day doing shit that only half of us want to be doing. We haven’t been forced to spend every waking second together. We have more to talk about and share with each other, and my kids act like they somewhat like one another because they weren’t forced to take part in activities they didn’t want to.
That doesn’t mean I don’t make them do things they don’t want to do; there are always exceptions. But if my family as a whole will be happier if my husband and I divide and conquer, that is what will happen. No more trying to keep up appearances over here or attempting to play out the fantasies in my head.
There are so many benefits in getting to spend time with just one (or two, if you have a bigger family) of your children doing something you all enjoy. It is an investment, the dynamic is different, and I am a firm believer it strengthens my relationship with each of my kids. It fills my cup, and it fills theirs too.
So our weekend and family vacations will consist of going off and doing our own things, and I couldn’t care less, because in the end, we are all happier and getting what we need out of the experience, and really, that is all that matters.