Travel News

Taking the Kids: How to Make Sure Mom Gets a Break on Vacation

Locations in this article:  Denver, CO Portland, OR

MotherDaughterWe made fun of my sister mercilessly — behind her back, of course.

That’s because when my sister Amy’s three kids were little, she wouldn’t go anywhere on vacation — to the beach, the ski slopes, even across the country to visit the family — without a sitter to help. So indulgent, we all said cattily.

So expensive. Maybe.

But she’s the one who got the last laugh. She’s one of the few moms I know with young children who would come home from vacation rested and relaxed.

“It’s my vacation too,” she’d say airily, as she left the sitter in charge to go out for dinner or shopping. She didn’t have to worry about leaving the kids with strangers or chasing a toddler down the beach.

The sitter helped clean up the kids’ messes (all the worse in small vacation spaces) and did the laundry. (My least favorite vacation chore.)

We moms know the dirty little secret of family vacations: They’re no vacation for us, especially when young kids are part of the equation. In fact, moms whisper around the pool, their eyes trained on their toddlers, they should have saved the money and stayed home.

“There’s so much schlepping,” sighed Denise Walsh of Portland, Ore., the mother of two young boys. That’s the least of it. On vacation, we still have to mediate squabbles, plan activities, navigate unfamiliar turf, keep kids safe, find missing sneakers and new batteries and treat minor illnesses and injuries — all that and scout out a washing machine, too. (Whenever possible, I go for a condo with a washer or a wash-and-fold place.)

That’s why Walsh opted to leave her husband in charge and take off for a few days on her own to Jackson Hole Resort. “I didn’t even want to call,” she confessed.

Of course we all can’t afford to take off on our own (though even a day would be a nice respite) or take a sitter along (though a favorite niece, nephew or neighbor would love the invite and, if you’re driving rather than flying, it wouldn’t cost that much more.)

“We’ve never been on vacation without help, (grandparents, aunts/uncles or a nanny),” said Dr. Lori Storch-Smith, a Connecticut pediatrician and the mom of four young kids, including twins. “It just wouldn’t be a vacation!”

But remember if grandparents are along, that’s no guarantee moms will get a break, if they want to play golf, sightsee or go out to dinner rather than watch the kids the entire time. (If you’re planning a trip with the in-laws, discuss beforehand exactly how much they’re willing to baby-sit!)

Most important, don’t feel guilty about wanting some time for yourself. Kyle McCarthy, creator of Family Vacation Forum ( an online travel resource for families traveling with kids, notes that moms “tell us they need a resort with a kids’ program but then don’t use it.”

McCarthy’s advice: “Pick a resort with a strong spa facility and a willing companion, so moms can do something for themselves.”

Hear that dads and kids? Instead of flowers this Mother’s Day, give mom an IOU redeemable on your next vacation.

Let the kids (and dad) be in charge of a couple of meals. Call ahead to where you’re staying and ask about baby sitters or ask friends with kids who live in that locale. (The resort’s children’s program can often prove a good resource.)

Louisiana mom Lori Joubert Cherry, who works for Southwest Airlines, sleeps in while her husband and 16-month-old son get up early for breakfast. Of course she gets the diaper bag ready the night before but Cherry adds, “It makes the other vacation days that we spend as a family a little nicer since mommy is more rested!”

You also don’t want to make beds and clean bathrooms on vacation. That’s why if you opt for a vacation cottage or a condo (Resort Quest, an online vacation home network,, has thousands of condos across the country and offers numerous special deals, including $50 gas credits for those heading to the Rockies this summer) opt for maid service, even if it costs a little more. I always do.

I also become the Takeout Queen, my kids joke. It’s no fun and too expensive to drag everyone out for every meal, especially when they’re pooped from a day at the beach or sightseeing. But there’s no reason for you to cook on vacation either — unless, of course, you want to. (We’ve had some memorable feasts, like the fresh fish the kids caught in Minnesota and the lobsters on Cape Cod.)

Whatever you’re doing, it helps to have an extra set of hands, especially if you’re a single parent. Denver mom Kelly Ladyga has joined forces with another single mom and vacationed with their toddlers.

They had so much fun they’re planning another trip together this summer. “I think being able to laugh at everything that went wrong was what made it fun,” she said. “We only had ourselves to rely on.”

There’s another plus to joining forces with another family: You’ll cut costs — and have a little extra cash to pamper yourself.

Ready for that massage? Happy Mother’s Day.

By Eileen Ogintz. For more Taking the Kids, visit , where Eileen Ogintz welcomes your questions and comments.


For more on family travel, check out Getting Good Service, With the Kids.