Traveling with small children in tow can be a challenge in the best of situations, but when you find yourself on a family vacation with friends, countless other dynamics come in to play that can make a vacation amazing or a nightmare. Whether the children’s personalities mesh is a big factor, of course, you probably wouldn’t be there if you didn’t know the kids were all on okay terms. But suddenly being privy to your friends’ intimate daily parenting style in close proximity for days on end, for the first time, can truly make or break a family vacation. Especially if it turns out that their style of parenting does not jibe with yours.
So what do you do if you find yourself in the confines of a summer cottage with friends you adore, but whose laissez-faire parenting style is playing havoc with your authoritarian schedule? Or their relentless helicoptering has you exhausted and a nervous wreck? Don’t worry: there are ways to avoid getting to that point with a little extra planning.
Ellen Himelfarb, writing on Mommyish.com, said she used her experience as an expat home for the summer and staying with different friends and family as an opportunity to see differing parenting styles in action and tried to learn some new ways to deal with situations with her own kids. I applaud her spirit of adventure and scholarly approach, but personally, as the parent of three energetic and opinionated boys, I can’t imagine trying to maintain sanity over a period of three or four weeks (the standard amount of time expats come home to the States during summer holidays) while bouncing from house to house. Maybe we are just too high-strung, but having to re-calibrate with each new family dynamic would be too much.
A more typical family vacation involves the much more manageable task of figuring out how two households can not only get along for a week or so, but create lasting memories of the good times you shared. I’ve put together a list of tips to help smooth the path to a beautiful and bump-free vacation together .
1. Set your expectations for the holiday together. Do you plan on letting your kids run amok at the beach while you park in your lounger with a cooler and stack of magazines? Or are you a planner who likes to keep the kids busy and always know what activity is coming up next? Make sure you and your friends are on the same page. Even if you use different styles to get you and your kids to participate, if everyone is working toward the same thing, it will make it a lot easier for everyone to be happy.
2. Establish some ground rules where the kids are concerned. Have a frank discussion with your friends before an incident comes up on how they would like you to handle their children’s behavior if something goes awry when they are not present. Some people wouldn’t dream of disciplining, or even reprimanding, another person’s child, while others are much more at ease. It may just be, as I have found in my life, that as a parent of all boys my manner with kids is more brusque than my friends with girls, which has resulted in me making pretty much every little girl in our playgroup cry at some point. I don’t mean to sound so sharp, but it is the method that works in my house and can’t be unlearned on a dime! Whatever the difference, it is much better to know and acknowledge the differences well before they might be put into practice.
3. Divide everything as evenly as possible. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but nothing is worse than one couple feeling like they are picking up the slack for the other one. Those dishes aren’t going to wash themselves and just because one person in the group may feel a pathological need to never see dirty dishes in the sink, it doesn’t make it OK for that trait to be taken advantage of, unwittingly or no. Make a schedule for who is responsible for what on each day and make sure shared expenses are divided equitably.
4. Plan time apart. I don’t care how simpatico your styles may be, make plans to do something separate from your vacation buddies. A whole week on top of each and there are bound to be some frayed nerves. Take a day to do something your family is particularly interested in, if you are sharing a car rental then plan ahead which days you can each have a turn. Another way to get some alone time is to go to separate lunches or dinners.
5. Make time for the adults. Make plans for you and your girlfriend to get away while the husbands take care of the kids and vice versa.Everyone will be a lot more relaxed if they get some time to bond… away from the demands of the rest of the family. If you can manage a sitter so both couples can get away for dinner together or separately, even better.
Photo courtesy: Amy Windsor
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