Is it possible to maintain a balanced life, travel, and live your dreams after kids? In the past few years, I’ve had this conversation (in person or online) more times than I can count: Me: “I love traveling with my kids.” Friend/acquaintance/stranger: “Oh, that’s a relief to hear. I’ve been so worried about starting a family because I want to keep traveling and doing the things I love.” It seems that many people feel that you have to give those things up when you have kids.
In today’s world, the prospect of having kids can seem overwhelming (and articles like this one certainly don’t help!). Besides all the duties of raising children, most women have to go back to work (in the U.S. after just a few weeks in most cases) and juggle the responsibilities of being a mom, worker, and partner plus taking care of themselves. It’s not easy to be a mom.
My story hasn’t been any different.
But 8 years after my older son was born, I can say this with complete confidence: you can still travel and do the things you love after you have kids. Life as you know it does not end with children. Yes, some things change, but others don’t. What you’re passionate about will remain.
In fact, these eight years have been some of the most productive of our lives. We’ve gotten one B.A. and one M.A. degree, two new careers (including one dream job), new hobbies, new friends, and many books read, we’ve traveled overseas several times…and, perhaps most important, we have a stronger marriage now than we did 5 or 10 years ago.
And this is not because we are workaholics or because we neglect our kids. In fact, the opposite is true. If anything, we haven’t had enough time just for us.
It’s also not because things have been easy. They haven’t. We are definitely not rich. We don’t have a huge family support here. We faced difficulties when raising our kids, including months and months of extreme challenge when our younger son had a life-threatening illness in utero. Even without the health issues we dealt with, any mom knows the challenge of having a newborn, especially when there’s an older one (or two or three) still wanting Mom’s attention:
Of course, the extent that having children affects one’s life depends on many things, and factors like income, location, and physical and mental health can make things easier or more difficult.
Here are a few things that we’ve learned along the way:
Things get easier as the kids get older. You may have heard this before, but it really seems to be true. We have much more time and space than we did when our kids were little. Our older son didn’t sleep through the night until he was SIX. Six! But now they very rarely wake us up during the night, and I get 7+ hours of sleep most nights.
A key for us = time off work. We have jobs that allow for a lot of time off. I didn’t get it when my kids were born (I went back to work 8 weeks after giving birth and used up years of accrued sick leave to pay for my measly 8 weeks of maternity leave), but having summers and most Fridays off has been huge for our family. I could work more to make more money or gain more status in my job, but I choose not to.
Choosing the right schools. After my older son suffered through hours upon hours of homework at age 6, I knew I needed to change schools. Fortunately, I found one that suits our personalities well, and it’s a free, public school. One plus for us is that “real” homework doesn’t start until 4th grade, meaning that for now, evenings at home are family/play time, not homework time. Nowadays a plethora of choices exist for all families, but parents need to be vigilant to find the school that best suits their family’s needs.
Have a hobby? Your kid might love it, too. Having children has given me a chance to maintain hobbies and rekindle old interests by sharing them with the people I love. Like me, they enjoy ballet, art, books, and travel. My older son is wacko about soccer, and his dad is, too, so they play soccer, watch soccer, and talk about soccer together all.the.time.
Make time. Schedule time for yourself, for you and your partner, and for you and your kids. And do it consistently.
Take help. Grandparents and other family are hugely important to kids and hugely important to parents’ sanity. So are babysitters.
Get out in nature. This is refreshing for everyone and important for kids’ development. Plus, it’s much cheaper than many typical weekend activities like going to the movies! But it’s important to be realistic when you’re exploring the outdoors with kids, who can easily become bored. When kids are into it, they’re in a zone, but going somewhere just for the view is often not enough for young explorers.
And yes, you can travel with kids. There are so many options to suit every family, from less expensive options like camping, day trips, or visiting family, to medium-priced choices like taking a cruise or road-tripping in one’s home country or more expensive options like going overseas. Do what works for you, but I’d suggest getting kids traveling as early as possible so that they get used to being away from home, flying on airplanes, and adjusting to new surroundings (and try these tips for traveling with kids).
Simplify. I’m a big proponent of creating a simple life for kids, with little screen time and fewer scheduled activities and toys and therefore less stress for the parents. It allows for more unstructured downtime for kids when they can just play, be kids, and use their imaginations and creativity. If you’re interested in this, check out the book Simplicity Parenting.
If you’re a parent, what has your experience been? Any tips you’d add for maintaining a balanced life after kids? And if you’re thinking about having kids, what’s your take on life after kids?
P.S. More on family & kids: