I just took my kids (13, 10, 6) to Orange County – aka “The OC” – to visit my folks for a week, and while it all went smoothly for the most part, there was more than one point when I really had to stop and marvel at how difficult it is to travel with kids as a single parent.
To set the scene, my kids really are experienced travelers, great on airplanes, and generally cooperative and happy young folk, but I think what’s most difficult is that there’s no break, no relief from us being jammed into a tight, foreign space for day after day. No “I’m going to my room to read and get some breathing space!” or “I’m off to Sue’s house for a few hours”, just all of us constantly together. Which can get difficult, to say the least.
I even planned ahead and invited my sister to join us from Alaska for a sort of mini-family reunion then asked if my 13yo daughter A- could bunk with her, which worked out great.
It wasn’t the hotel room space that was difficult, though, it was just the progression of days…
Again, don’t get me wrong, I feel like they did well, and I managed reasonably well, even if I didn’t have five minutes off in a week (one luxury of being a single dad is that half the time my kids are with Linda and I have a busy, satisfying and recharging single life, except, of course, when I’m on the road with the kids. I call that the single parent silver lining, but that’s the subject of another post).
There were a few moments during the week when I also realized how little positive feedback I get for being such a dedicated dad: for even taking the kids on a trip of any sort, let alone an expensive one that included time at beautiful Laguna Beach and a trip to our family’s favorite SoCal venue, SeaWorld. Instead, I thought about how one of the challenges that us single dads have is that our culture is so focused on how wonderful, important and critical mom is to children, but dads? We’re all the pyscho angry stalker types who screw up our kids. When do we get the positive feedback for even a job adequately done, let alone done well?
I know that in my immediate family there’s little positive feedback. My kids are surprisingly thankful, but when they’re appreciative one minute and arguing with each other the next, well, it’s hard for the positive to stick. Getting positive feedback from my ex is vanishingly rare for reasons I won’t go into here, and my parents are great folk, but totally clueless about my challenges as a single dad. So I do what I bet a ton of single dads do: I plod along, trying to do the best I can and hoping that I’m just racking up karma points and helping positively influence and love my children. That I’m “doing it right.”
After a few days I could see the interpersonal energy between my children start to lag, where the collective grumpiness rose to the point where each was interested in what they wanted to do and quick to complain about anything else. So I was in Southern California — a place I love, full of cool things to do — with a 6yo that was just dying to go back to the beach, a 10yo who said he “hated” the beach and it was boring (even though he’d had a great time when we were there, as you can see in the above photo!), and a teen girl who would have been fine laying on the hotel bed, reading her new book, then going shoe shopping. OMG.
We muddled through, and I only threatened to drive to the airport and fly home early (which would have cost $400 in ticket change fees, thanks to Frontier Airlines greedy ticket change policies) once or twice. But we survived, the kids all said that they had a great time, and we made it back to Colorado intact.
Still, it makes me wonder why travel is so tricky. I know it’s not just me, because I hear from my kids and, occasionally, Linda, about how it’s hard when they’re all together too. I guess my sister and I fought when we were on family trips too: is that just the nature of travel with children, the push-pull of wanting the known, the normal, the regular rhythm of daily life versus the adventure and change of travel and places new?
“…remind me: travel with kids causes spurts of insanity, shortness of breath, redness in face, lack of patience, hysteria, drinking straight from airplane liquor bottles, and occasional Tourettes syndrome, bouts of crying and excessive dreaming of ‘remember when we were single’ moments.”
In fact, Ashley, your posting was the impetus to write this blog post. Why? Because I was afraid that saying the trip was other than joyous and harmonious would somehow reflect badly on my parenting skills, that if my kids weren’t happy 24×7 that it was somehow a reflection of either my inability to entertain them or of my corrupting, negative influence on them as they’ve grown up. Yeah, I’ll let you, dear reader, unwind all the unstated assumptions in that statement.
My thoughts post-trip are revolving around finding someone to travel with us, whether it’s an au pair, babysitter, or even another family (which would be ideal: another single dad or a single mom with one or more age-compatible kids) (there’s a business opportunity there, y’know…), or taking trips with just one child, which has historically been way, way easier: this summer I’ve taken my 10yo son solo to Chicago for a week and my 13yo daughter solo to Colorado Springs for a week, both of which were delightful and far less stressful.
But enough about my musings.
If you’re a single parent, talk to me about how you approach travel with your children. Do you only travel to your family so you have a support team at your destination? Do you bring a FWB to help with the kids and, um, the evening entertainment after they’ve gone to sleep? (only mostly kidding with that one!!) Or do you just skip traveling, waiting for when you’re in a stable, committed relationship again and can travel as a bigger unit?