Busy Parents Need Vacations—6 tips for making your time off work for you and your family

Relaxing is hard work

Posted Jul 14, 2012

The summer my son turned three, I came home from work to find my son and his babysitter waiting for me with long faces. “We couldn’t find them, Mommy,” my son said as I walked in the door. “We looked everywhere, Diane,” the babysitter added. I was puzzled and searched my weary brain to try to remember what they might have been searching for. Not finding an answer, I finally asked, “I’m sorry. I just can’t remember. What’s missing?” She said, “We’ve been looking for the marbles you lost this morning.”

Looking back, I can laugh, but it didn’t seem at all funny that day. I had a full-time practice as a psychotherapist, which included teaching and supervising other therapists and, that year, editing a special edition of a psychoanalytic journal on gender issues. I loved the fact that my work allowed me to be with my son much of his waking time; but trying to keep everything running smoothly often left me feeling overwhelmed, anxious and terribly disorganized. When I left home that day, I had been frantically searching for a pair of sandals which seemed to have disappeared into thin air, and finally I told myself, “just find any pair of shoes and get out of here.” But my internal response was, “it’s summer! I want sandals!” I told myself that I sounded like my almost-three-year-old son and that I had finally lost all my marbles. I must have said it out loud as well.

In a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly Anne Marie Slaughter asks “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All?” But as James Joyner says in his response to the article, “Men can’t have it all either. Life is full of trade-offs. It's not possible to ‘have it all.’ It never was. And it never will be. For women or for men.” 

Surprisingly, vacations are one of the hardest times to balance our own needs, those of our kids, and those of any other adults in our lives— spouse, partner, lover, parents, siblings, and other caregivers—including our babysitter! Why is this? In part it’s because of all of the expectations we bring with us to vacation time—memories that reside not only in our minds, but also in our bodies. For example, as soon as it gets warm outside, many of us find our bodies starting to “salivate” with memories and anticipation of long summer days at the beach, or long, leisurely bike rides through rolling hills, or long hours reading junk novels…

But unless you have a large staff of caregivers and housekeepers (dream on, right?) it’s unlikely that your vacation with youngsters will repeat your own childhood time off—for you or for them. In fact, that fantasy—that you’ll make sure your kids have the same wonderful vacations that you had—can be as disappointing—for them and for you—as can a plan to give them the experiences you never had. Here are some simple tips for making sure that you and they get some genuine r and r this summer!

  1. Be realistic! If you have three kids, a puppy and two cats to care for, you’re not going to find yourself reading by the beach for hours. In fact, any activity or trip can become an exercise in stress unless you recognize realistically what can and cannot be accomplished by your family at this time. If you’re going to the beach, a lake, or anywhere else where a youngster can get hurt or lost, make plans to have other adults with you to help you keep an eye on all of the little ones in your charge. Don’t put a child in charge of other children—it’s not fair to anyone, and it can be dangerous, since children simply don’t have the necessary judgment or capacity for dealing with unseen risks. You’ll actually relax more if you accept reality and take into account the need for supervision in these settings.
  2. Use your daydreams to help you make plans, but don’t get stuck in them. What does this mean? As I write about in my book daydreams can help us know what we want—but it’s important not to always take them literally. For example, my husband and I have always been avid (but not very good) bikers. My daydreams about parenting had always included having children who joined us on these treks, first in seats on the back of our bikes and later on their own wheels. Imagine my disappointment when our son cried through every bike ride. When I finally recognized that he was not going to be joining us in this activity, I first thought we would simply have to give up biking for the duration of his childhood. And then I realized that not to bike would make our vacations much less fun for my husband and me. So I found ways to balance our needs and our son’s. We didn’t want to be away from him, but he didn’t want to bike with us. So we found some shorter bike rides, some of which we took him on with us (to a playground, for example, where he could also have some fun). We also engaged a number of helpers—my mother, a friend, a fifteen year old neighbor who he loved and who was happy to make a few dollars playing with him at our home—to stay with him while we cut our previously all-day rides into an hour and a half.
  3. Stay flexible. As I noted in my last post, stuff happens—even on vacation. Kids get sick. We get sick. Anyone can have an accident. When something changes your vacation plans, acknowledge your own and everyone else’s disappointment. Make room for feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness. And then try to find other ways to get some pleasure out of these precious days and hours. If you’re stuck inside, read a book together as a family. Watch old family videos or old favorite movies. Pull out family photos and go through them—maybe this is even a chance to put them in an album!
  4. Make sure everyone who is capable of it gets some exercise. One of the things most of us love about summer vacations, especially, is that it’s a time to get outside and get our bodies moving. Even if outside activities have to be curtailed, either because of illness or weather, find some ways to get some exercise. Put on dance music or a music tv station and get everyone moving. Exercise tapes can be fun even for little ones, as long as you don’t get too caught up in following the instructor too carefully! Take a walk with the whole family. Take turns with the other adults staying home and going out for some kind of exercise activity.
  5. Pamper your own and everyone else’s bodies. Our minds relax when our bodies relax. When a pool isn’t available, fill the tub with tepid water—but of course, don’t leave little ones unsupervised in the tub. Bubble baths and manicures are great home activities. Even little boys are sometimes into it (especially if you have blue and black nail polish available, and often if you only polish one nail on each hand). But don’t force these activities on anyone. If either a boy or a girl isn’t into the activity, it won’t be fun for anyone.
  6. And finally, if you can’t find any way to save this vacation, remember—there will be others.   

Image Source Page: http://www.isbreading.org/2012/04/vacation-with-kids/

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