4 Things Not To Expect on Family Vacations at the End of Summer with Little Kids

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Family vacations are many things – exciting, eventful, and educational. But one thing they're often not when you have little kids is this: Relaxing. A few weeks ago I took a trip to the beach with my husband, my preschooler, and my infant. As I packed, I imagined relaxing mornings in bed, lazy beach side days, and nights spent drifting off to sleep to the sound of ocean waves and cicadas. What I got instead was a wonderful, fun-filled, utterly exhausting exercise in adjusting my expectations.

Somehow, as I daydreamed about my upcoming vacation, instead of accounting for the fact that I have two real kids, I superimposed two well-behaved, self-sufficient little munchkins over memories of the beach trips I took pre-kids. We had a blast, to be sure. But, while I used to have a desire to linger on vacation a few more days, by the end of this beach week I was excited to get home, get back into a routine, and get some well-deserved rest. As the summer winds down and families scramble out of town for one last trip, consider checking your expectations before you hit the road so that you don't find yourself frustrated and burned out by your adventure. Check out the list below for things you shouldn't expect from your family vacation.

  1. Kids who behave better on vacation than at home

While getting out of your usual surroundings can help kids broaden their horizons and open their eyes to new experiences, it generally doesn't change their usual behavior or alleviate the frustrations that cause them to act out. Does junior usually throw a tantrum in the cereal aisle of the grocery store at home? Then the proximity of the beach to said grocery store is unlikely to have an impact on his usual meltdown habit. Do your kiddos squabble in the back of the minivan on the way to soccer practice or struggle to stay in their seat at restaurants at home? They'll probably squabble in the back of the minivan on the way to the amusement park and have a tough time staying seated when you eat out on vacation.

  1. Time to relax and decompress unless you explicitly schedule it

Pre-kids, when I went on vacation, I would grab a drink, a book, and a towel and spend sun-up to sun-down on the beach. As I read, tanned, or swam, I could almost feel the stress of everyday life leaving my body. With kids, I trek back and forth from the beach countless times during the day refilling water bottles, reapplying sunscreen, and allowing time for little people to get a break from the sun. Each time I left the beach, I was surprised by my kiddos' needs. Not because they were unreasonable or different than what they usually need. But because, well, we were at the beach and you're supposed to lay out all day when you're at the beach.

By day three I got the memo that time to “relax” wasn't going to happen unless I explicitly scheduled it. So, between nursing sessions, I tossed my kids to my husband, went to the beach, and told him not to disturb me until the baby was hungry. 

{ MORE: These Healthy Vegetable Muffins Will Help You Welcome Fall }

  1. Kids who respect that vacation is a time to let go of routine and go with the flow

As much as they might pretend not to, kids like routine. They like getting up at the same time, doing the same things, and going to bed at the same time. When you mix it up you *might* get the fabulous result of kids finding magic in a new experience. Or you *might* get a kid melting down at a magical castle because it's six minutes past their normal bedtime and meeting their favorite princess was JUST TOO MUCH! While most grownups like to mix up their routine on vacation, you can't expect that kids will do the same.

  1. The joy of letting go of chores

One of the best parts of going on vacation is skipping out on cooking and cleaning for a week. You might be able to let go of some of the dishwasher duties while you’re out of town. But there will still be baths to give and fruit to slice and diapers to change no matter where you are. Recognizing that you’ll still be playing maid while you’re out of town will ensure that you don’t spend your vacation resenting the work you’re still doing. 

{ MORE: Sand in My Swimsuit: Tips for Visiting the Beach with Kids }

Have your family vacations been relaxing with little kids?

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4 Things Not To Expect on Family Vacations at the End of Summer with Little Kids

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. She is writing a memoir on pregnancy, motherhood, and sisterhood and lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. ... More

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