Parenting on Vacation
The kids are home from school. Maybe you're still working, or trying to. Maybe you're juggling grandparents or babysitters or other parents, trading off time so that you can get done all the things you need to get done despite the fact that your children are on vacation.
Remember that old chestnut, "I need a vacation from my vacation!"
While you may think of vacation as a time to relax and unwind, often the demands of work or the unpredictable schedule, new venues and new people, interfere with how restful "vacation" feels. Change your expectations, and you might find these days to be a little relaxing after all.
Don't expect familiar behavior in unfamiliar circumstances: If your children are at a vacation program, or with a babysitter, or just home with you for an extended time when they're used to being at school, expect that they'll test out those settings in new ways. Anticipate that it may take a little longer to get dressed, a little longer to get comfortable, that your children may eat less (or more!) than usual, that they may be more tired or less patient. If you know beforehand that these are the likely presentations of being out of their routine, you may be able to keep your cool a little longer, too.
Your child's idea of fun may be very different than yours. You might think going to grandma's for a week is going to be a time for your children to play with their cousins and celebrate together. But for your child, visiting unfamiliar places, or visiting familiar places with new people can be unsettling, even when what's un-familiar is technically family. Prepare your child beforehand for what to expect, who you're likely to see and what kinds of activities you might enjoy together. Offer family photo albums to remind your children who's who in the family, and leave some blank pages to let your child know that this family get-together is likely to be worth remembering, too.
Think about ways to make vacation days memorable, but don't go overboard. Chances are, your children will be just as delighted to stay at home and help you make lunch as they would at another holiday-themed adventure. Remember that children need down-time, too, and the bustle of the holiday season can be both exciting and overwhelming. Don't be afraid to plan days just at home, spending time around the house, folding laundry or cleaning up together.
If your child is staying with new caregivers, be sure to talk with your child about the people and places you're likely to encounter each day. Again, don't make a fuss about it. Just matter-of-factly tell your child, during a quiet time, who will be caring for him or her the next day and where they'll be staying. Remember, young children struggle to understand the passage of time in the same way that we do, so you're better to describe upcoming events in terms of concrete experiences your child understands. "We'll have two more bedtimes before we visit Grandpa." "After one more night sleep, Abbie will come to spend the day with you." Don't invite worry, but instead, describe the changes with confidence and ease, modeling for your child that you trust the caregivers who'll be joining you and that he or she should, too.
Prepare for cabin fever. Think ahead about how many days your child is off from school and how you can balance those days to make them memorable and easy for the whole family. Some families will wrap familiar household games so the child opens one each day during vacation, giving a special moment on each day and creating a running timeline of how many days are left before we return to school. Other families will do the same with a number of envelopes with cards in them to open with details of each day. You might ask your children to help contribute to a vacation wish-list of different things to do or see each day. Make a list as long as the number of days of break, write down each idea on a small post-it note, and draw a note each day to decide what adventures you'll have. Again, no need for extravagance: ideas can be as simple as, "Let Mom read aloud a chapter from her favorite chapter book," or "Help Dad make meatloaf for dinner." You can stick the post-it notes to a family calendar to create a visual diary of the time you've spend together, or use them in a scrapbook with drawings and photos you take each day. These simple ways of making the passage of time more concrete will help your child to understand what " a week off from school," really means, and help to make each day seem special.
Vacation doesn't need to mean an expensive trip or extravagant adventures. Simple time at home, connecting as a family, your phones in the other room and your attention focused on your child, can be far more rewarding and rejuvenating than a busy trip during the busiest season of the year. Make the most of these small moments together.