Moms Don’t Get Days Off: Three Tips To Enjoy a Vacation {even} With Little Ones


dmb teaserI love vacations.  I really, really do.  I start planning, thinking about, and preparing for our vacation months in advance.  I dream of lying by the pool, sleeping in, quiet dinners out, and restful afternoons catching up on cooking shows or reading one of the twenty-seven books I’ve started and never finished.  Did I mention, I love, love, love vacation?

Then, we get to our destination and I remember something very important. Now, I’m a mom.  I have four children ages six and under. The kind of vacation I used to know and love is not my reality for the foreseeable future.

So, what’s a mom to do? Stay home until they’re 12?  Is it possible to enjoy a family vacation with a baby in your bed, a toddler crawling around the not-even-close-to-child-proofed hotel room or a preschooler who can’t swim?  I think so…

Here are my three recommendations.

Number One: Be Realistic!  I view myself as a pretty down-to-earth kind of mom.  I don’t think I’m much of a dreamer.  But, when it comes to vacations I seem to envision things in my head as a lot more fun and exciting and (as it pertains to my parenting responsibilities) easier than they actually are.

When I fantasize about vacation I tend to forget that my children will still act like my children act and still need me to take care of them.  Even though it’s MY VACATION, they still expect me to wake up, make breakfast, change diapers, make lunch, wash clothing that has fallen victim to potty accidents, change sheets that are soiled from said potty-accidents, find swim suits, apply sunscreen, brush teeth, find missing toys, get sand out of hair, find the Disney channel, change more diapers…Need I go on?

This is probably the first jagged little pill about vacations that all moms (and dads)–especially those of you new to this whole parenting gig—are going to have to swallow.

Because of above stated reasons, plan your vacations and related activities accordingly.  Allow me to share from my own experience.

You see, there was the time when I was eight months pregnant, in July, with three other children under the age of five, and I thought it would be really fun to go to Disney World.  We go to Florida every year to visit family and my older children were in a Disney-loving phase.  How could I deny them the chance?  I could just picture our smiling faces as we giggled our way through rides, happily shook hands with Mickey and his pals, and leisurely strolled the park.

What I forgot was that we’d all be sweating (profusely), my children are terrified of dressed up characters (sorry, Goofy!), there’s nothing leisurely about rushing from ride to ride to wait in line, and after about four straight hours no activity is still fun to toddlers. 

Not exactly the reaction I was looking for… Tigger was ambivalent.

Because I have a wonderful husband (without a tendency to apply revisionist history to vacation memories as I do), we did not make this mistake again last year.  But, that doesn’t mean we had to deny our kids all things Mickey. Instead we made reservations at Chef Mickey’s restaurant.  For my older children who were slightly more excited to see a dressed-up character, it was all they needed to get their Disney fix.  Then, we rode the monorail (for free) from park to park.  Truthfully, that was all the ride that they needed.

*Be realistic about your children’s attention span, abilities (i.e. Kids can’t swim? Skip the water park.), mood without a nap, comfort level (babies hate heat!), and plan accordingly.   Don’t feel pressure to “rush” the big experiences.  It’ll be a lot more fun to spend all day at a theme park when they are 6 then when they are six months old anyway. 

Number Two:  Don’t Throw Your Schedule out the Window!  Yes, I know it’s vacation…the time when you don’t HAVE to be on schedule. But, let me encourage you, that if you want to have a good time, your schedule just may be your best friend.  For me at least, I know that if the gang gets good naps then our dinner out will be a much happier event.  I also know that going to bed –close-to-on-time– usually results in fewer night-time wake-ups and a happier kiddo in the morning.  I know you are probably weary of your routine and long for the day when you can stay out as late as you want or stay on the beach all afternoon.  But, I find I’m happiest (read: having the most fun on vacation) when I’m not trying to parent a fussy, over-tired, and out of sorts toddler (or preschooler, or baby, or six-year-old for that matter!).

**If afternoons are naptimes, look for fun morning activities.  Make reservations ahead for dining if possible so you can eat on schedule too. 

When I see this look I know our beach day is done.

Number Three: Plan Ahead to Take Turns! After our third or fourth annual “fight-over-why-this-doesn’t-feel-like-a-vacation” discussion, my husband and I got smart. Now, on our way to our destination we intentionally spend time talking about what specific things we want to do, kid-free, while we are away.   For me, it’s usually something like wanting a full afternoon at the pool without having to watch the kids (which in our case means being in the water) and a day to support the local economy (code for: shop).  My husband wants time everyday to read alone and sometimes asks for a chance to go do specific errands that he doesn’t get time to do at home.  Planning ahead to give each other some space allows us to both make sure we get to do what we enjoy and helps us not get angry at each other for not getting the “break” we really need.


**Agree on and name a few days or sections of time when you can take turns spending quality time with the kids while your spouse accomplishes their vacation goals.  Even a few afternoons off can make a huge difference in your ability to enjoy your time away.

happy vacation2

What do you think?

Is vacationing with young children worth the hassle?  How do you cope?



  1. I am in New York with my 14 and 11 year old right now. Yes, vacations are worth it! Stick to your families style and do not worry about what everyone else is doing. We only have 2, so things are much easier. We are a laid back family that does not like to fight the crowds (ha yes I am in New York, my parents gift). When the kids were younger we stuck to Rosemary Beach, Seaside and we vacationed in Kenny Bunkport. No schedule, but nap and eating. As they have gotten older we have mixed in city a couple of days and beach a couple of days. We did not do Disney until they were in 3rd and 6th grade. No naps, they could stay up later and no melt downs. They were terrified of dressed up characters when they were little. To get away from home is a relief for all of us. Now I am panicked to think my son will be going to college in 6 years! Not too many vacations left!


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