Stay Sane Mom Founder
Published in Kids, Research on March 17, 2019
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In an ideal world, a weekend break would leave you and your family rested and relaxed.
Hahahahahaha…. **gasping for breath** ...ahahahahahaha.
Like that would ever happen.
Most of the time when your kids have time off school, it's a little bit of relief that you don't have to wake them up in time for school each morning, mixed with a great deal of dread for how you're going to entertain them mixed with worries of how you're still going to get all of your work done while being a 24/7 parent.
Every time my daughter has time off school I am reminded how much I used to get excited about breaks, and how far away those days seem. She gets so excited for summer break, spring break, or even an early out day for teacher meetings, whereas these things fill me (as a mother) with an active sense of dread.
And then there's an extra fun dose of mom guilt for dreading days I have to spend with my children, because I do actually love them a great deal, so that's a conflicting concoction of emotions that bruise nicely with my existing levels of stress. Thanks, school.
Believe it or not, this feeling where you return from a break feeling more stressed out than before is a common problem among parents.
This is even more potent when you actually take family trips on a vacation. Despite your dreams of the kids skipping along hand in hand, the reality is often more a case of bickering children and parents at the end of their tethers.
Fun stuff. what
Does this mean that every future weekend break is doomed? Not at all. But, if you’ve experience of things turning sour in this way, you may want to consider why it happened. Only then can you turn breaks like these into the sanity-savers they were always supposed to be.
What follows are my quick and dirty tips for how not to let a family trip or break turn into a nightmare scenario.
I can't guarantee these will prevent your children from turning into screaming banshee hellspawn, but they should give you a fighting chance at preventing it, if anything will.
When you were single, you probably loved waking up on Saturday and deciding to take a weekend away. What could be more romantic?
Sadly, this is never going to work now you have kids.
If you leave plans to the last minute, I guarantee you something will go wrong. Spontaneity does not work with children. Not for big stuff anyway. If you want to do a spontaneous meal out, that has a fighting chance of getting off the ground, but a spontaneous vacation? Way too many variables. Don't even think about it.
Getting the kids packed and out of bed on time will be a mammoth task. Not to mention that Older children might also have made their own social plans to occupy a break if they weren’t expecting a family trip.
My rule of thumb is to plan stuff at least three times the length of the planned trip in advance. This way if you're going on a two-day vacation, you should plan it at least six days in advance. If it's a week-long vacation, all plans should be buttoned down at least three weeks ahead of time.
This gives you a chance to plan, your kids a chance to brag to their friends at school that they're about to go on a grand voyage, and everyone a little time to get excited for what's about to happen.
If you remember correctly from your school days, one of the most important things about spring break was telling your friends where you were going.
It's almost like kids have an unspoken competition of who can do the most interesting thing over a break. You get bonus points for things like coming back super tan, bringing home cool souvenirs for your friends, or having a picture of yourself doing something crazy.
As a parent, you get sucked into this competition because you get blessed with extra Sullen and sulky children if you don't plan something exciting enough. Yippee.
If you always decide where to go on these breaks, it’s no surprise you’re stressing out. At best your kids say nothing when you plan a good vacation, and at worst they complain ad nauseam when you pick something that they don't enjoy.
I highly advise giving your kids a little bit of stay and where you go over brakes. I'm not saying you let your toddler dictate your entire itinerary, or your middle schooler drag you into the poor house with their exorbitant plans, but letting your kids feel like they have a vote is going to make them much easier to deal with and probably will lead to them having a better time. Even the promise of being able to pick your next destination could keep your kids engaged in the time leading up to your trip.
A cross-country trip might sound like a fantastic idea in the abstract.
In practice, it feels more like the middle bits of a horror movie.
Two or three hours in the car is a long time when you’re little. It gets pretty dull pretty quick, and when that happens, you and Hubby have to put up with continual bickering or choruses of ‘are we there yet?’.
When you're planning a trip, avoid things that you just know in your gut will not be possible for your kids. Going to see a Broadway show is a fantastic experience when your kids are old enough to appreciate them, but trying to keep you young children quiet in the dark next to snooty New Yorkers for three hours is no one's idea of a good time. It doesn't matter how much you wanted to see Hamilton.
By putting events in your trip that you know your kids are told or mature enough to handle, you do away with relaxation benefits altogether. instead, you can try to power through it with creative parenting techniques, or you can find a way around the activity altogether, opting for things that are more age appropriate.
For example, some parents opt to use goodie bags to tackle childhood boredom during long car trips or plane flights. Others opt to do long drives in a rented RV, which can be a more plausible option than stuff in your children a car for a long period of time. Non-linear solutions like this can have their own benefits. As you’ll see if you view RV prices, Staying in an RV instead of hotels is actually a decent price saver, and it takes care of the long car trip misbehavior issues.
This is incredibly hard for those of us with organized personalities.
If I plan a trip, I'm going to want to enact my plan by the minute. I organize things a specific way for a reason, and I'm excited to enjoy all of the stuff I spent a million years researching. However, this approach is an absolute horror for a trip with kids.
When you're taking a trip with kids, the purpose of the trip is to have fun, not to get everything on your itinerary checked off.
It's a bit of a mindset switch for us type A individuals, but once we realized that, as long as the kids are having fun, it doesn't matter if they spend the entire morning playing Legos with the contents of the mini bar, rather than going on the jungle safari we spent months researching, as long as they're having fun doing it.
(Now, if this scenario made you twitch, I want to admit would probably still “encourage” my kids to come on said jungle safari in this scenario, no matter how much fun they were having with their mini bar construction project.)
However, it is straight to the point that you can have fun letting your kids leave things a little bit, even if it's not exactly what you planned. Kids will often have more fun doing something they decided on then being dragged on something you planned, even if your thing is objectively way better.
Overall, whatever you do plan for breaks should ensure that you are not dreading them as they approach.
Try to pre-plan and reallocate your work as much as possible so that you can enjoy some spontaneous time with your kids. If this isn't possible, plan events for your kids ahead of time that give you little bubbles of work time so that you don't go absolutely spare. If you don't know what this is, feel free to ask your kids.
There is nothing keeping you from saying “if I had to be on a conference call for an hour, what would be the most fun thing for you to be doing in the next room?”. This kind of communication will allow your children to fix their own fate, and let them know that you still have to bring home the bacon even though they're off of school. Just make sure you balance your work with quality time, so they don't feel like they're getting a raw deal.
If you have toddlers, I'm including a link to my indoor activities for toddlers guide. This is my tried-and-true list of hundreds of ways to keep your toddlers occupied indoors, which is fantastic four giving Mom a little bit of time to work as well.
Founder | Contributor
Liz is a wife, mom, blogger, coder (and unabashed digital nerd), PhD student (and huge psychology geek), workout masochist, and occasional human being. She founded The Stay Sane Mom after marrying into the role of stepmom to a preteen girl (and Instagram addict) and shortly thereafter having her first bio kid (now a toddlernado supreme). Her goal is to provide tools and support to help other capable, sleep-deprived, soul-hungry moms master their domains so they have the time and energy to be more than just 'mom'.
Stay Sane Mom gives support to the over-worked, under-slept, marker-stained, soul-hungry moms of the world, so they can be more than just "mom".
You just want to keep the house clean, have a happy marriage, raise functional kids, and still have a little left in the tank to be a real person as well.
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