My family and I were recently on vacation in Turks and Caicos, home to arguably one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. Our hotel suite was right on that beach and yet my husband and I were hiding inside our bedroom, trying to keep our whisper-yells from scaring the kids on the other side of the wall.
First, with four kids 10 and under, there is no “relax” on vacation. You’re constantly whiplashing back and forth trying to make sure nobody drowns, runs off or gets kidnapped.
Second, we were gone for two weeks, and two weeks in paradise is too long—so is two days—when you’re cash strapped on an island that has to import everything. We thought we were saving money by booking a hotel with a kitchen for the first week and splurging on an all-inclusive the second. We had grossly underestimated how much the trip would cost and how quickly we might tire from the sun. Worse, as the planner of the trip, it was all my fault. I’d drown myself if I weren’t already drowning.
Unfortunately, it only took the first 48 hours of our trip to figure this all out. You see, in just 48 hours, we had had it. Had it with the jerk kids and their non-stop demands. Had it with the hunting down of reasonably priced food, only to find $80US cases of beer and $40US burritos in its place. Frankly, had it with each other. We were in this moment about as unhappy as two people can be, or two parents on a family vacation.
And then we made a decision, and things switched just like that. We made the decision to be happy.
That night, eating ice cream out of the container with my eldest and crying my eyes out over American Idol, which I haven’t seen since he was born because I’ve become so frickin’ busy, I actually began to feel that way.
I’m happy to report the rest of our vacation was bliss (ish). Here’s how we did it.
1. Choosing to be happy. Just making the decision to be happy was a big step. To focus on the positive and enjoy the moment. Had I gotten my family in over its head, budget-wise? Yes. Were we headed for debt? Probably. But I booked our trip anyway for a variety of reasons, and we knew it was a splurge going in, so why were we sweating it instead of enjoying our time? From that day on, we chose to focus on the good stuff and minimize the stress. We bought the kids food we knew the kids would eat (cereal, bacon) instead of agonizing over all the food that usually goes to waste (basically anything in the lunch or dinner category). Not only did it means less money wasted, but it was also less work for us.
2. Letting go. Sure that’s easy to do on vacation, but when you’re travelling with four little ones, sorry to say, your work travels with you. Being with busy kids 24-7 is physically exhausting, but it can still be restorative if you give yourself a chance to switch off your brain and send those to-do lists packing. I focused on enjoying the moment, tried to ignore the past and let go of future planning—a major obsession for me. Even at an all-inclusive, there are decisions asking to be made—which restaurant? Which activity? Instead, I simply let the kids run free—and heartily chased after them.
3. Getting help. One of the bonuses of booking at an all-inclusive is not only the all-you-can-eat buffet—where you don’t have to worry about groceries, cooking and cleaning—but also the babysitting. We checked the kids in at their respective care centres a couple of times during our stay so we could enjoy a peaceful dinner where we didn’t have to constantly get up and serve others, and could have a conversation without interruption.
4. Giving each other a break. Even with these aforementioned choices and corresponding actions, we parents still got overwhelmed. Our antidote was giving each other a time-out through the day—the chance to swim out in the ocean, read a book, take a yoga class or have a drink at the bar. We always returned to our family, and each other, the happier for it.
It needs to be said that none of this would have been possible without Ann Douglas’ Happy Parents Happy Kids by my side. I consider myself so fortunate to have brought her book with me on my trip.
From “Digging yourself out of emotional muck” and “Managing unrealistic expectations” to “Treating yourself with self-compassion” and “How to keep your relationship on track”—I have all these sections double- and triple-dog-eared, by the way—Ann’s book helped me get in the moment, dial down the overwhelm and find my inner calm. (It took some serious digging.)
Chapter 6 especially (How to Boost Your Enjoyment of Parenting) should be essential reading for all parents. I could go on, but Ann does it so much better—just read the damn thing. Thank you, Ann, for your kind, wise words and encouragement. All us parents need it.