Have you ever been on a retreat? Would you take your children on one?
Now my children are a little bit older we like to go on a special type of holiday, at least once a year. This is separate from the main family holiday where we go away and try to pack as much fun and sightseeing into our time as we possibly can. No, this is a separate type of away time, and I like to think of it as a retreat.
We usually go to our holiday home in Mudeford (see www.meridies.co.uk). We generally go without my husband, as he is not one for the gentle relaxing of rules that we like. If he comes with us, it is a holiday, not a retreat, and we have to have plans and do stuff. When he doesn’t come, we can relax a bit. We go without the dogs too – I love them, but they enjoy getting a holiday with a different family and a little bit of time off is always good.
On our retreat holidays, I step back from a lot of the parenting duties. We eat out once a day, sometimes breakfast, sometimes lunch. For the rest of the day, people graze from the fruit bowl, the fridge and the cupboard and help themselves to hot or cold drinks as they see fit. There is a lot of healthy food to be had and quite a few treats too – it’s gratifying for me to see that my children both like to snack on fresh fruit and veg as much as they want sweets and crisps. But if they feel they want to pig out on junk one of the days (or more), then they can.
I can trust them now (at 13 and 15) to go to the beach by themselves if they want to, or I can leave them at home & go to the beach myself. If the weather is nice they can take a walk, go swimming, or hire a kayak or stand up paddle board for an hour. My daughter will quite often draw or paint, and both of them can occasionally be found strumming their ukuleles and learning new tunes. And then we play board games, watch rubbish tv and chat – a lot. They open up to me on holidays like this, and they also chat a huge amount to each other as they have to share a small room for the week.
I get up early and let them sleep in, and I go to bed early and let them stay up as late as they want to.
Why am I telling you this? Because the profound relaxation and headspace I get from these little trips is immense. Freed from parenting, organising and planning, housework and my job, I can walk, think, meditate, journal, photograph and get creative. I can soak up the sea and the sunshine and find my happy again.
I have time to think, to daydream, to plan and to ponder.
In addition to that, I get to watch the children unwind and relax too. They are both at high achieving schools and I know the pressure they are under to do well academically as well as all the other things that come with being a teenager – social skills, fitting in, looking right, being good enough.
On our retreats, all of this falls away and they can be whoever they want to be. It’s so lovely to see them unwind, relax, smile more and go back to being kids again. It’s also lovely to see them getting on well together, helping each other with all their little worries.
I cannot tell you how precious these retreats are to me. Not only do I get time to step back and be me rather than mum, but I also get to see the effect of profound relaxation on these two fabulous young people. I am so aware that I won’t have them for much longer – even this summer they are both going away for extended periods and it’s only a very short time before they will fly away completely.
I’m very grateful now for the fact that I chose to have just two children and very close together. I won’t lie, it was hellish when they were younger. But now I can enjoy their teenage years and so can they, without us having to simultaneously entertain younger children. I do miss some of the activities we used to do, like visiting zoos, parks, playing crazy golf and going paddling but all in all I much prefer this bit……
Now I can see flashes of the old me emerging from under the persona of mum. And (menopausal maniac excepted) I quite like what I see. The future is looking bright.
Do you take time out to relax with your children? I’d love to hear your viewpoint.