Confession: I struggle going on vacation with my young children. And by ‘struggle’ I mean ‘I really don’t like it’. I would get an A for effort when it comes to the different adventures we’ve gone on, but I would rate each experience as a D. Everything from The Atlantis in the Bahamas, Carnival Cruise vacation out of NY, Disney Cruise out of Cape Canaveral, and a beach cottage at Cape Cod. Every time we’ve spent too much money and too much time arguing. In the case of Atlantis, my husband and I spent our evenings hiding in the bathroom drinking wine out of plastic cups on the edge of the tub while the children “slept”. Cruises left us feeling claustrophobic. I thought a beach cottage would be great! But my price point got us a run down home far from the beach.
Granted, my children are different than other children. The toddler is very attached and cannot leave my side to join the “kids camps” that are organized during these trips. My preschooler has anxiety over transitions and the intensity of these types of vacations often overwhelms him, causing volcanic meltdowns.
Yet I persisted in planned and executing these vacations. Why? Two words: fear and guilt. Have you seen the Facebook video that dramatically states we only have 18 summers with our children before they leave us? EIGHTEEN! Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!! Hurry! Go on the lavish vacations and create the memories! The end of their childhood is near!! No wonder I’ve put so much pressure on myself to go on trips that either advertisements or our own friends and family recommend, painting a picture of the great time we *could* be having if only we’d book the trip and set sail. So I go to Great Wolf Lodge and Splash Down, and I lament how deprived my children are for never having gone to Sesame Place or the Grand Canyon or (gulp) ….. Disney World.
Reality has presented me with a completely different version of this myth. First of all, I just went on a camping trip with my husband, children, and my Dad. MY Dad. Which means my Dad did not have only ’18’ summers with me. He’s had many more, and will continue to enjoy our time together regardless of whether I’m 8, 18, 28, and beyond. Honestly we have a lot more fun on vacation now than on any trip when I was younger. I appreciate our time together so much more! Plus he’s an expert on vacationing with children (having done so many times) and an expert on how to connect with my children because he’s a freakin’ awesome grandpa.
It dawned on me that I’m choosing vacation destinations based on what other people think I should do or out of some fear driven obsession with getting all the memories packed into a few short years. Neither of these triggers are healthy, sustainable, nor do they produce any good plans (clearly, see the first sentence of the blog). Any decision based on what other people think you should do and/or making choices fueled by anxiety are recipes for disaster in ANY area of life. But I digress.
I decided to go to the experts: I asked parents of my patients about their favorite trips and where they’ve had the most fun with their young children (under age 5, for reference!). The three common responses were Turks and Caicos/Grand Cayman Island/other family friend Caribbean Islands, a drivable beach vacation (in our area thats Long Beach Island, Cape May, etc) with another family, and third was camping/RV’ing at KOA’s. This year the first two were out of my budget. And camping is not for me. However, these vacation experts (my patients, not the parents!) were quite adamant about how much fun they had at KOA’s. Thankfully for this Momma KOA’s – Kampgrounds of America – are super close to where I live, have cabins with bathrooms and kitchens (no tent, no thank you!) and provide a ton of entertainment to children of all ages but mine in particular. A pool, a playground, a fire pit. Dirt. You know. All within walking distance of the cabin. It was still hard, because of course the sky opened up with thunder and lightning our first night so NO one slept. I brought the wrong sized fitted sheet for our bed. Etc etc. Yet I got to spend time outside, relaxing, not trapped in a hotel, not stuck in a run down beach house. This cabin was brand new, clean, and comfortable. Maybe the simplicity appeals to me, but honestly it was so different from everything else we’ve ever tried to do and I would absolutely try it again.
So I’m committing myself to having less Vacation Guilt, a special variety of Mom Guilt that I didn’t even realize existed! Count on me to discover it. Please comment below! Let me know where you’ve brought the kiddos that felt more fun than frightening, or share a similar tale of woe. Either way I salute you, Pro Parent, for taking the risk and getting out there with the littles. By understanding who are children are (their strengths, their joys), not by convincing ourselves they SHOULD like something, is how we can avoid the guilt altogether and take the trip everyone can enjoy!