The first vacation my wife and I took, was on our first anniversary. We loaded up our little black Dodge Neon, and headed off to the Oregon Coast (Seaside) for a week. We were still pretty much “newlyweds”, so life was great! We could do anything we wanted, pretty much any time we wanted to do it. There were no “little people” to think of, we didn’t have a care in the world. Well, except for the part where I was running a high fever, complete with flu-like symptoms, and my poor wife had to set her alarm to get up every 4 hours and give me more Tylenol so my fever wouldn’t get our of control, but that’s another story for another day. Anyway, my point is, we were able to relax, to have fun as a couple, to see all the sights we wanted to see, to eat at whatever restaurants we wanted to eat at, to sleep in however late we wanted to – you get the idea. It was a vacation!
Now fast-forward to today. We now have 3 kids, all under the age of 6, and one that is not even a year yet. We just got back from that same trip we took as newlyweds to Seaside, except we traded our black Neon in for a Honda mini-van, and traded in our freedom for three little munchkins. 😉 Three little munchkins with lots of “needs” and “maintenance” that has to be done on a regular basis. But we weren’t worried, Val and I were thrilled to be headed on a much-needed “vacation” with the family for 8 nights. 8 nights of vacation. What could be better?
Turns out, quite a bit. Vacation with small kids is basically learning to do life in a new home that doesn’t have most of the things (like baby gates) that you’ve learned make life with young kids much easier to deal with. If you’re picturing family vacation being like the vacations you used to take as a couple, but just with kids, you can just clear that out of your head before you gas up the mini-van. There are meals that now need to be had by certain times, there’s nap time to consider (and believe me, you don’t want to skip nap time), and little people asking “are we there yet?” and “can’t we just go back to the house? I’m hungry!”. Not to mention the trip that used to take you 7 hours, now takes around 10. Yippee. Oh, and remember how you used to take day trips from where you were staying, when you didn’t have young kids? Yeah, now it takes a half hour of prep time to even think of heading out on a 2 hour day trip. Spontaneity is a thing of the past. And did I mention you are 7 hours away from the nearest babysitter now? Yeah, there’s no calling anybody to see if they can watch your kiddos for an hour while you take a walk on the beach with your wife. Oh no, it’s all you and the kids now. EVERYWHERE you go.
So how do you keep your sanity, and not get a bit grumpy that the “dream vacation” you planned, is turning out to be a little more work, and a little less “refreshing” than you might have been dreaming about? Here are a few things to keep in mind –
- This is not your second honeymoon – If you are planning on having long (or at least quiet) walks on the beach with your wife, being able to sleep in and make up for lost time in the bedroom (wink), and a few nice dinners out, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. We have to remember that this family vacation is just that – a FAMILY vacation. If you want a romantic getaway with your wife, plan that when you get home. For now, you’re going to have to deal with getting up at 6am when the baby decides it’s time to get up, and walks on the beach complete with one of you wearing a Ergo (baby backpack). “Nice dinners out” are going to look more like take out pizza that you bring back to the house. Unless you want to pay $80 or more to go to take the family to a nice restaurant, just to be on pins and needles the entire time fearing the kids are going to tip over the water pitcher, or start crying and make the people who looked at you like “oh come on, they’re really bringing kids in here?” get up and leave. Not my idea of fun.
- You don’t HAVE to do anything – Sometimes we think that when we go to a location for vacation, we HAVE to make sure and hit the 16 different places that “EVERYBODY GOES TO” when they’re vacationing there. Now if your kids are older, this may work great for you. If they’re not, you’re going to find out pretty quickly that your 3-year-old couldn’t care less about the famous art gallery that everybody insists you have to go see. I remember when this fact really hit me. We were stopping at a park near the beach to let Val feed the baby, on our way to another little road trip to somewhere we “had to” go see. While she took care of the baby, I took the older two (who had been bickering and complaining the entire time we had been in the van) to walk on the boardwalk by the beach and get some fresh air. As we were walking, checking out the ocean view, I noticed something on my kids’ faces that I hadn’t seen much the last hour we had been in the van – big, goofy grins! They were running ahead, giggling and talking about the beach, and how they wanted to run in the sand, and build sand castles. I remember walking on that boardwalk, watching my kids, and thinking, “why do we continue to force our kids to do the things that we are “supposed to do”, if all they really want is to do spend time with mom and dad having fun doing simple things like exploring the beach, or taking a bike ride?” Maybe we’re missing the point of this whole “family vacation” thing. I talked to Val about it when we got home that day, and we agreed to stop trying to fit our little kids into our pre-made “vacation mold”, and instead fit our vacation around our kids’ likes and needs. Now I’m not saying that you can’t visit any landmarks that you wanted to see, or check out a location you heard was great, but what I am saying is that when your kids are enjoying themselves, odds are you will be too. If you’re stressed out, you might as well be back at work.
- Remember why you’re there – You’re on vacation with your family because you wanted to take some time off of work, get out-of-town for a while, and spend some quality time with your wife and kids. While it would be nice to be able to sit on a lounge chair underneath a palm tree (maybe at nap time?) all day, it’s hard to do this with small kids that need your attention. Instead, determine to do all those things with your kids that you may not have time/energy to do with your kids after a long day at work back home. Grab a ball and ask your son if he want’s to play kick ball. Take everybody on a treasure hunt at the beach. Let your 3-year-old daughter do your hair for you (ok, maybe this is crossing the line…lol). This is about building the relationship you have with your children, so make the most of it! The day will come a lot sooner than you think when you will miss the days when your kids could all 3 fit in your lap for story time.
- But what about quality time with my wife?! – Don’t lose hope! There are still ways to spend time with your wife, and re-energize the relationship, on a family vacation. It may take a little planning and creativity, but it’s possible! One thing that parents of older kids DON’T have, that we do, is the beautiful time of day called “nap time”. This wonderful 2 hour stretch of time can be used for any number of activities, including but not limited to, snuggling up to your wife and reading that book together that you always said you’d read, catching a little time in the hot tub to relax (our house had a hot tub), or both of you sneaking off to your bedroom for a little “nap time” yourselves. Have little “dates” after the kids go to bed. Sit out on your deck and have dessert together in the candle light. Cuddle in front of the fire. You get the idea! Don’t let the kids being there, ruin the plans you had to reconnect with your wife on vacation. You just have to work around a few things, and be creative!
Family vacations are one of those things that will make for memories for years to come. Things that you and your kids will talk about, even after they have kids of their own. I still remember things we did when I was a kid on the camping trips/vacations we took as a family. I know it’s tempting to throw up your hands and exclaim “really?! I’m supposed to be on vacation!” when you’re trying to get sand off your kids in places where sand shouldn’t ever be, or when you get two blocks from the house and two kids say “I have to go to the bathroom!”, but we have to remember that this is a stage of life that while sometimes frustrating, is one that we will someday look back at and wish we could replay.
What are some ways you have found to make vacationing with small kids easier?
How do you make sure that you are able to still get some quality time with your wife, even on family vacation?