When we think of traveling with our grandchildren, most of us imagine an experience that’s postcard perfect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to spoil that picture. Try our tips to avoid these common vacation slip-ups:
1. The Slip-Up: Not Coordinating Your Schedule
The Scenario: Heather Flett remembers vacationing with her parents and her sons, ages 1 and 3. Everyone was psyched for a good time, but forgot to coordinate their alarm clocks. “My kids get up between 6am and 7am on a normal day. They are ready to eat by 7:30 and take naps just after eating lunch at noon. Sometimes we have time for fun in the afternoons, but if necessary that afternoon nap can stretch until 4.” Her parents, on the other hand, thought it wasn’t really a vacation unless they could sleep until 10. The plans were good, but the timing was way off.
The Save: Never underestimate the power of synchronization. Put together a schedule you all can live with. It might mean not being together 24/7, but the hours you do spend together will be full of fun, and meltdown-free.
2. The Slip-Up: Not Understanding Different Priorities
The Scenario: You work hard to make a trip special, but your grandchildren define the word a little differently. “My mother-in-law planned to have us ride all the rides in the morning, when we’d avoid lines,” says Jennifer Milikien of a recent trip to Disney with her mom, her in-laws, and her 3-year-old daughter. It was a great plan, but thwarted when the little girl wanted to stand in line for Winnie the Pooh’s autograph.
The Save: Again, a little pre-trip planning will put things in perspective. Ask everyone what is a “don’t miss” on their list, and devise an agenda that will hit each person’s number one priority. The other stuff? Forget about it! After all, vacations are short, but Pooh’s paw-print in an autograph book lasts forever (and so do those memories).
3. The Slip-Up: Having a Greta Garbo Complex
The Scenario: Your family, friends and even the bellhop at the hotel offer to help out, but you politely decline any assistance, as if juggling three little boys, an armful of souvenirs and a live lizard through a swanky lobby is a piece of cake. Get a clue: “I vant to be alone,” may work for Hollywood blondes, but not so much for Gramps and Granny.
The Save: Time to be honest here. Sure, you may have singlehandedly taken your own brood to Disney World, but that was a generation ago. And these aren’t even your own kids. They’ve been raised with different rules (we’ll get to that next) and you may be unfamiliar with their schedules, their temperaments, and their energy levels. Best to take along another adult who can help out. Even after all these years, two heads are better than one, and at least you’ll have someone to commiserate with over coffee after the kiddies are in bed.
4. The Slip-Up: Believing the Ultimate Grandparenting Myth
The Scenario: Johnny wants cake. “Mommy always says no,” he sniffs. Well-meaning, ever-loving granny slips the boy a slice of angel food, just this once. And if he wants a brownie, too? Heck, it’s vacation.
The result: Johnny is up all night on a sugar high. Seems he already had brownies earlier that day. He sleeps in the next morning, ruining the day at the aquarium you planned for months.
The Save: Remember the old saying, “I can spoil them if I want. I’m their grandma”? Forget it. Lock it away with all those other ideas which have proven downright awful after time, like beehive ‘dos, Milli Vanilli, and tofurkey.
The truth is their parents know these kids best, and the rules are there for a reason. It will be better for them — and saner for you — if your time together mirrors the children’s normal life, with just a smidge of wiggle room. (It is vacation, after all.)
5. The Slip-Up: Failing to Know Before You Go
The Scenario: Little Chrissy is skimboarding under your watchful eye. Then that big wave hits and the board bops her on the nose. You head to the emergency room, but have no idea when she had her last tetanus shot or what insurance plan her family has.
The Save: It’s easy to get swept away planning all the fun stuff, but don’t forget to address health and safety issues. “You may think you know everything you need to know about your grandchildren, but you may be unaware of things that are important,” says Nadine Nardi Davidson, author of Travel With Others Without Wishing They’d Stayed Home (Prince Publishing). “It’s a good idea to review the children’s medical history, including any problems, vaccinations, allergies or the need to use glasses.”
So make up a fun safety pack, with the child’s medical information, necessary medications, insurance card, and a letter from mom or dad authorizing you to make medical decisions during the trip. Don’t forget the car seat or booster if you’re traveling by car. After all, nothing will take a vacation off course quicker than an accident.
And if you do make a mistake, forgive yourself and move on. No need to spoil the rest of the vacation dwelling on the past. Enjoy the time you have together. After all, that “mom-mom mistake” will make a great story at family reunions for years to come.