Last week was spring break for my family, and I decided to venture on a mini-vacation with my kids. This was the first time that I had taken the girls on vacation since their dad and I divorced, and I’ll admit that I was a little freaked out. It might seem silly, but I’m outnumbered two to one, and my youngest daughter can be a bit of a challenge.
She likes to push every single button I have. And some I didn’t even know I had.
Without an extra set of hands, I knew that I was going to need to look at this differently than when we vacationed as a family with two parents. I had a plan going in to the trip, but plans will only get you so far. Here’s what I learned about vacationing as a single parent (at least for the first time).
- Go somewhere you’re familiar with. In our case, that meant traveling no farther than the hour car ride it took us to get into the beautiful city of Chicago. I decided to stay close to home for this first adventure with my girls. Getting lost is stressful enough without having another adult with you to occupy the kids while you figure out where the heck you are.
- Pick the right hotel. The Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, which hosted us, was the perfect home away from home for us. I stayed there in 2013, so I was familiar with the excellent location of the hotel, which was within walking distance of Millennium Park, the Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier. The rooms are large and spacious, and we had an option for the girls to each have their own beds (sharing is NOT conducive for a good night’s sleep), as well as a small sitting area. The Starwood Preferred Club includes a lovely breakfast and in-room Wi-Fi, which is a HUGE money saver. In addition, the Sheraton is close to a Whole Foods, Walgreens and movie theater. You never know when you will need any or all of those places.
- Keep as much a surprise as possible. I didn’t tell my girls where we were going or what we were doing until the day of, hour of or as we were heading there, so I could save myself the aggravation of listening to them complain about what they were doing, so they could get to the next, more interesting thing. This also cuts down on the “Are we there yet?” because once you let them know you aren’t disclosing anything a couple of times, they’ll give up. At least mine did.
- Have a schedule. I had our three days very planned out, including a visit to the American Girl Place and seeing the Blue Man Group show. Plus, I’d built in a lot of time to walk around, so they could get the feel of the city and enjoy the beautiful architecture. I thought keeping them busy from wake-up to bedtime was the best idea.
- Be willing to throw your schedule out the window if necessary. See number four? It was a good idea, to a certain extent. My kids are not city people. They are not used to the same amount of city walking that I am. By the morning of day two, they were exhausted and just wanted to lounge around in the hotel. I needed to give them that down time so that they could recharge their batteries and be ready to tackle the rest of the day’s adventures. When there is only one adult, there is no “hand off” of the crabby child to hang out with the one that’s in a good mood. You get them both, so you need to give them the time they need to recalibrate so they are both in a good mood.
- Make sure there is a pool. A hotel pool is a magical place. And the pool at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers is no exception. All of the stress of the day is washed away in the warm, balmy air of the pool area, and, let’s face it, listening to your kids squeal with delight when they jump in the pool and swim around might be the only time you get to hear them get along during the entire trip. And the only break you get from the complaining about being hungry, tired, bored, sore feet, etc. ENJOY IT. Plus, if they weren’t tired out from the day’s activities, there’s nothing like an after-dinner swim to exhaust them so they will sleep. It’s magic; I’m telling you!
- Be the fun parent. Being a single parent is a huge challenge, especially if you are the primary parent. Inevitably, one of you ends up being the “rules” parent and one is the “fun” parent. I’m usually the rules parent. During this vacation, I relaxed a lot of my regular structure to just have fun with my kids. We ate popcorn from Garrett’s for lunch. I took them to as many of my favorite places to get candy, cupcakes and chocolate shakes as we could fit in to our three short days. I let go of strict clock-watching, and instead paid attention to their behavioral cues for signs that they were done for the day. I was still able to be their reliable, dependable mom with the rules that they are used to, but they also were able to see the fun side of me, which is so important. And we had a blast!
Now that I’ve gotten over the hurdle of the first trip, I’m excited to plan our next trip. What about you? Have you taken your kids on vacation alone? What did you find that worked best for your family?