Remember the liberation you felt in middle school when the teacher handed you a hall pass? Remember the exhilarating moment you stepped out into the empty hallway and realized you were at the beginning of a few moments of alone time in a day cluttered with people, voices and near-constant direction? It was that thrilling combination of freedom and responsibility that let you know you were trustworthy. And even if you typically thought that you hated your teacher, you wanted to kiss her when she placed that official scrap of paper in your hand.
Well, now every day of your life is like a 24-hour school day, but you and your partner have the power to grant that all-important freedom to each other, just like your wise and trusting teacher did. The difference is that the potential benefits to be gained from this little freedom will reach much farther than the junior high bathroom.
First among them is the mutual respect that is implicitly conveyed through the granting of the partner hall pass. The first time this happened in my relationship was more than 18 months into the life of our first child. I was already six months pregnant with our second kid and desperately in need of an overnight reprieve, sleeping in, and passing a day or two without a baby hanging onto my leg. My husband recognized this need, probably even before I did, and suggested that I go away with friends for my birthday.
It was his suggestion and, more importantly, his follow-through that clearly told me he recognized and appreciated the work I was doing every single day. It was a message that said, “I respect the woman you are enough to know that you need a break.” There was no implication that I was messing up in some way and required the kind of sabbatical they give to wayward nuns or some crap – it was just a genuine and sincere “thanks.” In truth, I may have needed that recognition far more than the actual time off.
Hand-in-hand with respect comes good old trust – a cornerstone of all healthy relationships. When you allow your partner to leave for a weekend you’re saying that you trust he or she will stay within the bounds of your relationship while away. That’s sort of the obvious one. But the person who leaves is displaying an equal amount of trust that you will do right by your kids.
This was a big one for me since I was still in my selfish phase of motherhood wherein I was pretty sure my husband didn’t know what the hell was going on when it came to caring for our child. Of course, he did know (in his own way) and everything was fine – even outstanding – while I was gone.
Yet another benefit of getting out of dodge once in a while: the partner who stays home gets one-on-one time with the kids that is a world apart from the everyday, even for the primary caregiver.
When I headed out of town for 48 hours that first time I knew things would be different when I returned, but I had no idea how major the change would be. Our daughter had never been alone with her dad for that long and she frickin’ loved it! Their bond changed for the better and forever that weekend. I saw the very same thing happen a few months ago when I left both of our children with my husband for three days. Everyone was alive, fed, clothed, happy and sharing new inside jokes when I got back. It was as if our kids developed a deeper love for their dad when they realized that he could indeed provide them with everything they need. Provide for them in ways that mom never really does. They have always loved him just for being their dad, but now it’s like they love him for who he is, too, because they really got to know him.
It’s not that they didn’t know him before their solo-dad weekend, but the intensity of their time together was different for those few days. Kids are smart, man. They know the difference.
So then I get to see my husband through my children’s eyes and the circle of benefits from the hall pass just keeps on going. Even without offspring in the picture, there are lots of reasons that two people who love each other should spend some time apart. It may sound counterintuitive, but I promise you that getting away from each other is the best opportunity there is to remember just how much you want to be together.
It’s the whole absence, fond heart thing. If you’re off relaxing at a spa knowing that your partner is at home dealing with bath time and diapers and laundry, your love and gratitude for that person can only grow.
There just aren’t that many gifts we can give to one another as parents that will make as big an impact as the hall pass. Like it or not, a part of us stays in adolescence forever and that little punk will be so stoked to get out of jail for free – no matter how temporary the foray. And the adult in all of us could soooooo use a morning in bed.