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We Waited Too Long Before Leaving Our Daughter Overnight for the First Time

Who knew two years could go so fast?

“Can I stay another night?”

That’s what our daughter asked shortly after we arrived to pick her up on Sunday afternoon. She had just spent her first night away from home, and my wife and I had just spent our first night away from her. Ever. And while we were thrilled the weekend went well enough that she didn’t want to leave, I couldn’t help but feel an immediate sense of regret: Why had we waited so long to take a trip together? If our daughter was this cool about it now, at a little over 2 years old and fully aware of our absence, just think how easy it would have been a year early when she was absolutely clueless.

But we didn’t go a year early. No, instead, my wife and I said we were not ready to be away from her. She’s not ready to be away from us. It didn’t matter that our daughter had been in full-time daycare since she was 3 months old. That we regularly left her with a babysitter. That we’ve both traveled for work (separately) and been away from her for days. For whatever reason, there was some hang-up about both of us leaving her overnight, at least for me.

Now, admittedly, logistics played a fair part in our decision not to go sooner. While we had good babysitters ⏤ my wife works at a college ⏤ we didn’t really have anybody nearby that we felt comfortable asking to take a whole child off our hands for an entire weekend. It’s kind of a big ask. We thought about flying family in but hated the idea of not spending time with them too. It wasn’t until some parent friends actually offered that we warmed to the idea. It was our 10th anniversary, after all, no more excuses. They jokingly promised to, at a minimum, keep our daughter alive.

We became cool with that modest assurance. Which is why, as weird as it was, pulling out of the driveway and seeing her outside the car rather than strapped into the car seat in my rearview mirror, we didn’t think twice. All week, she’d been bubbling about her impending “slumber party” with our friend’s two kids, one aged 4 and one 16 months. (Yes, they willingly volunteered to throw another toddler into the mix.) She actually asked to leave on Friday night. By Saturday morning, she wanted to skip breakfast to hit the road.

If there was ever any doubt that our daughter would be fine without us, it was long gone ⏤ she obviously wasn’t too torn up about things, even if we were hesitant. And her reaction again hammered home the point: parents are afraid to leave their young kids, not because they’re worried about how the kid will adapt, but because of their own anxieties. The key to finally being able to pull the trigger on a getaway is recognizing that the fears are your own.

And, we realized, after two years of focusing all of our energy almost exclusively on the needs of one tiny little person, you forget what life is like on the outside of the day-to-day routine. To not be woken up at 6:30 every morning. To both get to sleep in. To be out of the house together after dark. Sure, date night is great and all but more often than not it ends at 9:30 with both of you falling asleep at the table waiting for the check. It’s not the same type of quality time you used to enjoy, or need to keep your relationship healthy. You need time together that doesn’t involve a family reading of Click, Clack, Moo, and you can’t feel guilty about taking it.

Will you miss your child? Of course. They’re adorable and hilarious and, assuming they’re not currently sprawled out on the floor melting down, fun to be around. But you’ll be fine, and so will they.

Our friends were nice enough to send pictures of our daughter having a rip-roaring good time, which left us free to do the same. Cocktails, dinner, the beach. Uninterrupted conversation! We even got breakfast in bed and went to the aquarium ⏤ which ironically, would have been more fun with our daughter. But whatever, we’ll take her another time.

Once upon a time, I was a mildly judgy parent who couldn’t fathom how somebody would dare leave their 1-year-old to take a vacation. Too soon! So selfish!, I would exclaim to my wife. And then we ditched our daughter for a weekend. And now I get it. And next time she asks, “Can I stay another night?” we’re definitely saying yes.