Welcome! Get the information you need to win at parenting without losing yourself.
March 3, 2019
Three weeks, two days, seven hours and twenty minutes, but who’s counting? I am. The anticipation is killing us at my house as we painstakingly mark days off on the calendar ’til our next family vacation. Even my two and a half-year-old joins in the “Hawaii, Hawaii, Hawaii” car ride chants her older sister spontaneously bursts into on the regular these days. My next dedicated getaway with my family may be almost a month away but, in my mind, I’m already there.
I’m all for finding contentment wherever life finds us, in using mindfulness to appreciate the beauty of right where we are instead of wistfully wasting our lives away on what we’d rather be doing but, sometimes, having a happy place in our minds can actually play a huge role in getting us through the roughest patches we face. I have not one, but three, magical moments seared in my mind that my brain flips to on the regular, especially when my kids are acting up or my day job is making me seriously question my career choice.
In one scene, I’m lying on a yacht along the blue-green water off the Amalfi Coast (I know, it’s a little much—just bear with me here). I can smell fried calamari from seaside cafes and I’m holding a glass of white wine. I am—no joke—lying in a two-piece retro emerald green swimsuit on my back with my pre-baby body and I’m laughing. I’m not laughing like belly laughing. I’m laughing like Beyoncé on her yacht “Oh ha, that’s so amusing” laughing. There’s radio music—classical Italian —and crisp green grapes. The sun is hitting my shoulders and my hair so that I literally look and feel like a goddess.
Now, I’ve been to the Amalfi Coast and I’ve even been on a boat in the Amalfi Coast (a tiny speed boat we rented for $50 an hour with NO grapes and NO wine and definitely NO PRE-BABY BODY), but the odds of me getting back there anytime soon are slim to none. In fact, the trip was a poor financial decision and it took us years to pay down the credit card bill). Still, the romanticized version in my head of what it was like to be there is as real as the sky is blue.
In another, I’m lying in a hammock on the beach in Hawaii (see a theme here)? It’s me and my then 8-month old daughter. We’re giggling and softly swaying as we look up at the blue sky and the palm trees. The sound of ukelele music wafts through the air from our condo, where my husband blends Costco Pina Coladas and plates fish tacos from the local food truck.
For the last one, I’m snuggled in my bed with my husband and my two kids. We took a day off work. School’s out. We’re playing Stevie Wonder on our Bluetooth speaker. The sheets and the covers feel so soft and snuggly. It’s bright outside and peaceful inside. We’ll probably make waffles at some point. We have nowhere else to be, nothing else to do. We’re just here, with our people, in our home.
These are my three happy places. Two are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Amalfi Coast on a millionaire’s yacht? That will likely never come to full fruition but it doesn’t matter. It triggers my mind to relax, to slow down, to breathe.
Snuggling up in my bed? That one is fully approachable. I could have a “four peas in a pod” moment most weekends if I made it a priority. It just probably won’t be as prolonged or as peaceful as my mind makes me think it will be. Inevitably, one of my kids will complain that the other one is taking up too much room, the other one will steal half the covers, my husband will realize the waffle maker is broken and World War Three will break out between my kids as we decide over alternatives like pancakes or French toast. Still, it’s a good place to go back to—literally and physically.
See, as much as I try to live my life based on a fundamental belief that I can be content wherever I am—that my perspective is what drives my satisfaction, not my circumstances—sometimes I need to physically remove myself from my day to day (or weekend to weekend) life. My kids? They can come along, too, cause it turns out they need to get out of their ruts and tired routines, too.
Camping and beach trips are just as good, if not better, than high-stress, multi-plane adventures. Vacations not only allow us to take a step back from the drone of life, they also allow us to explore new places, to make new memories, and to simplify—together. Family vacations are an amazing way to model self-care and to get out of our day-to-day grind.
Now, can vacations also be stressful and annoying? Of course. Don’t plan a super complicated, 5-week adventure with your 3-year-old (if you do and you complain about it to me, I will only say I told you so). Do age-appropriate vacations and plan for what can go wrong, when possible, realizing you won’t be able to control everything all the time.
For real, though, I hear you saying. What about all the hassles of travel? So much can go right when you travel with babies and young kids—chances for adventure, opportunities to re-connect and to re-charge—but SOOOOO much can go wrong: cranky kids, flight delays, unexpected illness. It can be overwhelming to even start to consider taking your little ones on more than a local jaunt. I’m not about to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a leisure trip if it feels way more stressful than leisurely.
So, is it even worth it to try? Definitely!!
When we went to Hawaii two years ago with our then eight-month-old baby and three-year-old toddler, we decided to bring our nanny with us. At first, we felt really embarrassed we were planning it that way. It was a little “too rich for our blood,” my husband said. He barely mentioned it to his family when they asked how we were going to juggle both kids, two flights and our desire to actually relax once we got to our island destination.
But, after we came back, he could not contain himself about what a completely different experience we would have had without her. I’m so glad we made the decision to set aside our pride. We did the simple math on affordability and made a choice that worked for us. In the end, it cost us about $500 more on an eight-day trip to have her come along (since we would have been paying for her to care for our kids anyway during that week based on our contract with her).
Last year when we went on a family vacay, we brought grandma # 1 for the first week and grandma #2 for the second. It was an even more cost-effective way to actually meet our trip-away goals.
I can already feel my blood pressure lowering as we arrange the details of our next stay with extra help on the packing list.
Especially when you travel internationally (or to a more remote destination), don’t assume you’ll be able to find the medications or the products you need. Bring ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl) when appropriate (plus know your child’s dose). Pack a first aid kit, plus diaper creams and a sunblock you trust. Make sure you remember a thermometer, plus the normal soaps, shampoos, and lotions your child’s body is used to. In my pediatric office. we see countless patients come back from trips with skin irritation and rashes from using hotel-brand products.
Before you go, look into how to access care in case of emergency or in case of mild illness. If you book on sites like Airbnb or VRBO, take advantage of your host’s knowledge of the local area and the local healthcare system.
Get an international phone plan so you can access family or make phone calls for help if necessary. Familiarize yourself with Google Translate so, if you are stuck with a language barrier, you can communicate more effectively.
I tend to overpack. I want to make sure I have all the items I need everywhere I go. The upside? I’m ready for most anything. The downside? Usually, I can hardly find the one item I really need as I sift through all the junk I stuffed into my heavy suitcase. This year, I’ve learned to pare it down and lighten my load. It makes it easier in the car, on the airplane and throughout the airport. The less you lug and the more efficiently you lug it the better.
It might sound like a good idea to travel around the world with your two-year-old and it very well might be. But if your two-year-old is temperamental (or is just typical), think it through before you buy the tickets. On a smaller scale, we have plenty of discussions in my house before a big trip about how to get from Point A to Point B with the least amount of drama. For every adult-focused activity on our vacations, we plan a kid-focused activity. We know when to call it quits on our itinerary, even if we’ve already bought the museum entrance tickets and it feels like we’re wasting our hard-earned money. Dragging yourself through an experience is not a trip, it’s just annoying. No one gives out medals at the end for “Biggest Vacation Martyr.”
Brace yourself a little for some sleep deprivation and some minor illnesses once you come back from your vacation. If you can, plan ahead so you have a recovery day at the end of your adventure to just catch up on laundry and get the house and yourselves back in order. Anticipate you might have to use your down day to tend to things you forgot to take care of while you were away or that came up when you returned.
Know how, when you go through the airport, your carry-on luggage and personal item seem to somehow get heavier and heavier the further you walk? Multiply that times ten with a baby because you now have an extra PERSON you are lugging. There are obviously some items you have to bring with you – a small stack of diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, bottles if formula-feeding. But, the less stuff you have to lug through security, through the terminal or into the overhead bins, the better. Better to check it and forget it, in my book.
A lot of new parents think they should get to the airport super early if they are traveling with a baby or child. Usually, though, that just means extra chances for meltdowns (for your baby, not you) and germs. Obviously, give yourself enough time to make your plane, but don’t plan to linger excessively. On the other hand, when it’s time to board the plane, consider your unique situation. Airlines offer family boarding early on in the boarding process, which can be tempting. If you don’t have an assigned seat or you have carry-on luggage that demands overhead bin space, take full advantage of this perk. If you haven’t brought much with you, though, consider minimizing the amount of time you have to sit “trapped” in a small space with your infant.
This is a hard one since, notoriously, airports and airplanes tend to be germ fests. The number one way to avoid a baby getting seriously ill from air travel? Don’t take them until after they are old enough to receive their first set of vaccines and are out of the highest infection risk zone (in our practice, we don’t give the first set of vaccines until at least six weeks old and recommend waiting a few weeks after vaccination for the shots to take effect before flying. I waited until about three months until flying with my first baby). Once you’re on your way, it pays off to wash your hands well with soap and water often, wipe down the seats, and to keep your baby away from direct contact with sick people.
Once you depart on your flight, you’ll want to help minimize discomfort in your baby’s ears, which can build as the pressure changes with altitude shifts. Giving baby something to suck on (a pacifier, a bottle or a breast) can really help. On the way up, it’s obvious when you need to pay attention to helping your little one with this but, on the way down, it’s easy to get the timing wrong. Instead of waiting for the flight staff to tell you you’ve started your descent, be observant. When you start to feel the plane descending, get your baby going on an ear pain prevention plan by initiating some type of sucking motion (note: if they are asleep, let them sleep). For toddlers, let them know their ears might feel funny on the way up or down. Ask them to look up and make a silent lion’s roar to help initiate a yawn, thereby triggering the eustachian tube to clear.
When parents ask me about alternatives to screentime on airplanes for older kids (two years and up), I have to laugh. Most of the time, I’m a huge proponent of avoiding excessive screentime for our kids. It distracts us from making real connections as families, replaces opportunities for creativity and physical activity, and contributes to behavioral problems. When it comes to super long plane rides, though, it’s a different story. Since it’s completely unnatural for us to ask our kids to sit for six hours in a tiny seat, it’s also completely natural for them to get bored out of their minds and want to watch movie after movie.
Consider making a plan ahead of the flight with your child. For longer flights, we like to have our five-year-old play games and draw for the first hour or so, then watch a movie, then take a brain and food break. If we’ve still got hours to go, we definitely let her dig back into another show. Treat screentime like ice cream. If you give it to your kids in large quantities every day, it will overwhelm their little systems. If you let loose every once in a while, it’s not such a big deal.
So you have a baby or a toddler on a plane? Oh, well. Tons of other passengers have been in your situation and we’re not irritated when we hear your baby cry or hears you say for the umpteenth time, “Johnny, please get back in your seat.” Those who are will have to just suffer through. If your baby wails the entire trip, it makes sense to at least acknowledge the patience and understanding of others around you. But those little gifts some propose to assuage your neighbors preventatively? Unless you have tons of free hours you would not rather spend doing ANYTHING else, I say forget it. You paid to be on the plane just like everyone else and you’re doing way more hard to work to make the trip successful than any of your seatmates.
My friend Christie, a business exec coach and an all-around amazing working mom puts family vacations and moments into perspective so well:
We live in a world where overdoing it is the norm and where taking a break is often seen as a sign of weakness. It’s not. Take a family vacation. You don’t just want, you need, to create some happy places for your family—places you’ll remember when your kids are grown, memories you can access on your hardest days, moments that will, in the end, be the best ones of your life.
Want more information about how to parent and cope when you’re a new mom? Check out our book, The Newborn Baby Blueprint: Preparing to Care For Your Infant and Yourself.
Looking for baby registry or baby shower gifts? You’ll love our Newborn Gift Boxes (in Baby Boy, Baby Girl, and Gender Neutral). They’re full of information, inspiration, and a little love for all the mamas and mamas-to-be in your life (including you!).
Sign up to receive the Modern Mommy Doc Newsletter. You'll receive exclusive tips and updates that will help you become a well-equipped parent:
Success! Now check your email to confirm your subscription.