My children’s grandparents are the saving grace to our family vacations. Is it always easy? No. Do we always agree? No. Do I get to sit down and enjoy my morning cup of coffee? Yes. A million times yes.
Before our kids graced our life (and our vacations), we successfully traveled with our respective in-laws a few times a year. While we spent time together, we embarked on separate adventures most of the time. Once kids are added into the family dynamic, even if the dynamic works well, things inevitably end up messy for a while. Things change: schedules, venues, sleeping hours. It wouldn’t be a vacation without six people being hungry at different times.
We do love to travel with our small gang of crazy; to us, seeing the world and new things in our children’s eyes are worth the hassle of traveling with kids. We just discovered that the excitement runs dry if we are all on duty full time. The first time we went to the beach with our parents, our daughter didn’t want to sleep until early morning hours. It was also the first night I slept more than a few hours uninterrupted. My mother-in-law gracefully slept in the living room with my baby daughter and brought her to me to nurse in the morning, along with a cup of coffee. I didn’t even need to go to the beach; that right there, was my vacation.
It is funny, really, the sympathetic looks we receive when I tell others that we are planning vacations with our parents. The preset notion is that it entails constant bickering with my mom or butting heads with my mother-in-law. I get it—I do. I also know that once we get home, we will not see them for a few days and then miss them. Getting to spend these vacations with our parents and our children has helped us grow a deeper relationship, one that I am grateful for, but more importantly, a foundation on which my children will remember and pass on to us when they have their own families.
These are the key elements that help us have a blast during our vacations with our parents and in-laws:
Grandparents want to babysit. We don’t drag them along as free babysitters, but they really want to have the kids for a few hours while my husband and I go out on the town (or just go outside for a few minutes). We do not take advantage of them, and they enjoy fun moments on their own as well, but trust me, they remember the time they spent with their grandchildren more. We live near both sets of our parents, so they do see our children often, but if your parents live far away and are on vacation with your family, let them have alone time with their grandbabies. They will be forever grateful.
Vacations are also times to let it all go in terms of what you usually expect or demand at home. My mom will not put the kids to bed, but she will give them ice cream and Pocky sticks while we are at dinner. True story. I just took a breath and bathed two sugar-high children, realizing that my mom had fun and so did they. I also got to have a drink and dessert, so fair is fair.
Quality time trumps strict schedules. Stock the fridge and fill up the snack basket. Meals will never happen at the best time for everyone. Close doors and know that the house/rental/hotel room will never be silent, but cars were meant for naps. Also know that when your kids wake up in the morning, someone will be there to greet them and make them breakfast while you lie in bed for an hour. It takes what seems like an hour just to get six humans in the car, so if plans involve being somewhere a certain time, start moving early and give yourself a few extra minutes for the last-minute potty break that children and old people need (I’m referring to myself, by the way). Going slow reduces stress and will keep attitudes healthy and happy.
Knowing that our parents like to go to bed early, we respect that their time is better spent with us during the day and take our kids places without them in the evenings after dinner. We still cherish the quality time that our family of four spends together, and it gives our parents the bedtime they need to function for another day of fun.
Create lasting memories. We all know that time does not slow down. While I would like to pretend that our parents always will be in the position to travel with us, that soon might not be the case. Another reality: one day too soon, our kids will be too busy or too cool to want to spend time sitting around a cabin doing puzzles with their grandparents. My dad, who passed away shortly after our wedding, didn’t get the chance to make these memories with us, and I know that my mom cherishes it for him. To fill up their cup with joy is the least we can do for the people who created and built us.
If you haven’t thought about going on vacation with your parents and/or in-laws, do it. If you have, I would love to hear about your experience and ideas on what worked best for you.