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The Problem-Solving Parent: Vacation - With or Without the Kids?
By Eleanor Reynolds, M.A.

Summer is right around the corner, and you might be thinking about taking a well-deserved vacation. Before you plan where to go and when, you need to decide whether you are going to bring your kids along with you. Vacations without your children give you the opportunity to bond with your spouse without interruption, enjoy leisurely dinners in an adult setting, and see movies without a G rating. Tempting indeed, yet there are negative consequences to being separated from your child, and such a decision should be weighed carefully. By the same token, vacationing with your children requires a great deal of thought and planning.

Vacationing without the Kids

Separation away from their parents is very difficult for children under age three, but even older preschoolers can become upset at the absence of one or both of their parents. In early infancy, babies recognize and bond with their parents, and by eight to 12 months, the fear of losing a parent is their primary anxiety. In addition, young children have a distorted sense of time; a day can feel like a week to them. They simply don’t understand a parent’s long absence and may exhibit one or all of the following: nightmares, anger, clinginess, fearfulness, whining, aggressive behavior, detachment, and withdrawl. Some children bounce back quickly from a parent’s absence while others take much longer to recover. Rebuilding a sense of trust will depend on your child’s temperament, age, the type of careful preparation you make, the length of the separation, and most importantly, the caregiver who substitutes for you when you are gone.When choosing a substitute caregiver, pick someone with whom your child has a warm, loving relationship, such as a relative or close friend. If possible, have the person come to your house so your child can remain in familiar surroundings. It helps to have the caregiver come several days before you leave and spend time caring for your child alone. You might even stay away an entire night prior to leaving on vacation, just to see how things go. Be sure the caregiver clearly understands your child’s daily routines and tries to stick to them.

Vacationing with the Kids

A family vacation has its pitfalls, but there is no substitute for the memories you share. The following tips are to help you plan your vacation so that everyone will have a great time.

Write Down Your Goals for the Vacation. Try to strike a balance between the needs of your children and your own needs.

Be Realistic. Make frequent stops while driving, and stop early in the evening before everyone is starving, exhausted, and cranky.

Stay Put. Choose a destination where you can stay for several days and do your sightseeing from a home base instead of darting from hotel to hotel.

Bring the Emotional Necessities. Take a supply of favorite “comfort” foods and bring beloved blankies and stuffed animals.

Make Lists. Write down important information and items to bring along, such as medications, vitamins, toys, clothes, the phone number for your child’s pediatrician, carseats, stroller, and anything else you might forget.

Stick to Normal Routines. Keep nap times, meals, and bedtimes as consistent as possible.

Minimize Jetlag. Rearrange your family’s schedule several days before your departure to help everyone adjust to the time at your destination.

Give Each Other a Break. Periodically, each parent should have an hour or two of time alone. Don’t expect a second honeymoon, but seek out time for intimacy, such as when your child is napping.

Consider a Structured Vacation. Cruises, resorts, and family campgrounds all provide activities for families and for children.

Avoid staying with relatives unless they are willing to child-proof their home and can cheerfully tolerate the disruption. A hotel is probably less stressful, and you will someone to clean up after you!

Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers and the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach. She can be reached by email at problem@blarg.com.