There is nothing like a family vacation to highlight your parenting flaws. As a parent coach, maybe I shouldn't have any. But the truth is I stumble just like all parents. On a past holiday trip to Florida, my husband and I got a chance to get intimate with our parenting missteps and how to improve a tough situation. I hope seeing where we went wrong might help you for the next time.
Here's the scene: With the weather unseasonably cold, we took the kids to Wannado City, a breathtaking indoor child city located outside of Ft. Lauderdale. We left my mother's house without a hitch -- got in the car on time, pulled out of the driveway and started rolling down the Florida Turnpike when ...
"Daddy," Casey says from the back seat, "can I have my song again?"
"Not right now," her dad replies. "In a few minutes."
"Pleeeease," she retorts.
"No. not right now," I interject. "We are sharing the radio right now."
"But Mom, I want my song..."
"Mom!" she now screams "I want my song NOW!"
(We try ignoring her for several minutes, to no avail)
Finally, beaten down, we give in (Parenting mistake #1). Let the cycle begin...
We had just barely recovered from the Lion Country Safari fiasco the day before. Now it was more of the same. Upon reaching Wannado's front door, my 14-month-old son -- a normally docile boy -- decides to wail inconsolably for 40 minutes. He isn't tired, hungry or wet. Just mad. Ugh. As my daughter excitedly tries to tell me where she wants to go first I snap at her to wait a minute while I try to comfort her brother (Parenting mistake #2).
Finally, with my son mellowed, we make it to the innards of Wannado. First Casey goes to the nail salon and polishes another little girl's nails. Adorable. Quickly, we head to the pretend modeling agency for Casey's fashion show. When she prances on the runway we melt with pride. But that moment came and went.
Here's where it all goes terribly wrong. Our lunch takes 40 minutes to arrive. My kids -- and I -- are starving. All the tables are filled. By the time we finally sit down, Casey glances dismissively at her grilled cheese (which she asked for) and snidely says, "I wanted pizza." (Here comes mistake #3) I say "Casey, eat it!" And the battle of wills begins.
Twenty-five minutes later, the battle ends with Casey in hysterics in time out and my husband and I on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Tired of the rude responses, the intolerant behavior, the whining, the crying and the tantrums, we find ourselves in a pickle. Do we stay and let Casey think she can act horribly without consequences, or do we leave, suck up the $50 in admissions and drive the 60 minutes back home? What do we do?
Suddenly, I realized that I was so frustrated with the hassle that I wasn't being particularly nice to my daughter. I wasn't patient or listening. I wasn't thoughtful of her needs. Realizing that I too had an impact on the outcome of the day, I took a deep breath and tried to salvage what was left. I told Casey that I was sorry that we were both upset. I made a deal with her to eat five bites of grilled cheese and a few fries (a compromise that allowed us both to save face.) I gave up on the hectic schedule we planned and focused on a few things that Casey wanted to do. Most helpful of all was my conscious decision to enjoy my children. It seems strange, but I had to step back and focus on the positive instead of being dragged down by the negative.
I would have liked to believe that all the agony was my daughter's fault. That the whining and backtalk caused all of our bad times. But maybe, to some degree, we were contributors to our daughter's horrible behavior. And, if we helped cause it, maybe we could have the power to create good behavior, too.
Here's what I recommend to help you on future vacations:
• Lower your expectations on vacation. Being away from your home environment and typical schedule can be very stressful. If you come to terms with this fact then the extra nagging and rough behavior is less frustrating.
• Plan less and enjoy more. Over-booking and trying to do too much just adds to the work of a vacation. The less-is-more policy allows for lots of fun but setting limits doesn't overtax parents.
• Talk to your kids in advance and let them know what you expect for their behavior and what the consequences will be.
• Have a Plan B. When it looks like every day is a struggle and no one is enjoying the vacation, do something unusual. Go to a movie on a beautiful sunny day, hit the ice cream parlor on the ski slope, have a family pajama party in the tiny hotel room. Find ways to give in to the craziness and give yourself a break.