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My parents asked if we'd like to go on a vacation with some of my extended family. The vacation will be spent almost entirely at a nice hostel; we mostly want to relax and spend quality family time together. In general I've enjoyed these vacations in past years, but the last two times we've tried to vacation with my daughter (now 1 year 10 months) have been extremely difficult. My two biggest problems are:

  • It doesn't look like we can get something with more than one room. This means that whenever my daughter is asleep, somebody needs to be in the room with her, with the lights off, keeping pretty quiet. (She usually sleeps 2.5 hours in the early afternoon, and goes to sleep at 9pm.)
  • Meals are a central part of the vacation, with all the family sitting round together. But with a toddler they become very difficult. At home I can let my daughter run around and play if she's not eating precisely when we are. But in any kind of lodging, the dining room is large and crowded with strangers. This means she needs constant supervision throughout meals - which means either me or my wife can't really participate in the "main event."

In addition to all this, there's all the usual hassle of taking care of a kid without our full homecourt arsenal of toys, food, etc. And, on the other hand, there's not much present for her to do and to enjoy, except general running around (and getting kvelled over by the entire family).

So the bottom line is, watching my daughter becomes such a hassle under these conditions, that I (and/or my wife) have little time to actually enjoy the vacation itself.

Are there ways to avoid these problems and actually enjoy what the vacation was originally meant for? Or should we pass on this particular gathering, in favor of spending family time without vacationing, and vacation time in more toddler-friendly (or toddler-free) circumstances?


Note: This vacation is planned around a Jewish holiday, during which lots of normal everyday activities are forbidden - including using computers, phones and TVs; driving (e.g. away from the hostel); listening to music. I'd appreciate answers that took this into consideration, though for the purposes of the FAQ-for-the-ages I also welcome suggestions that ignore this limitation.

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7 Answers 7

I can relate to your situation. It's practically impossible to combine a lively toddler with any sort of event that is meant to be peaceful, orderly, and quiet.

It sounds like you won't get any enjoyment out of the trip at all, and you worry that you might significantly annoy other participants as well. Based on this, my honest recommendation to you would be to skip this year's event.

That might not be possible, or offend some family members, but it seems that the they have a choice between having their peaceful event at the sacrifice of your company, or having your company at the sacrifice of a peaceful event. If you believe that you can't provide both company and peace then choose one, or let other people decide.

If you must go, then prepare as good as you can. Tactfully inform other participants in advance that they are putting you in a situation you can't gracefully control; there are bound to be disruptions beyond what might be acceptable for the event.

Bring favorite toys and necessary items. Bring new toys too, especially ones that are appropriate in a restaurant (not disruptive, etc.).

Also, consider some of these questions. I don't need to hear your answer, but your own reaction and thoughts might help you along.

  • Is it really true that somebody has to sit quietly in the darkness for 2½ hours? If you do this at home too, then perhaps you can begin training a different way before this event.
  • Would it be possible to get a long-range(1) baby monitor so that both parents can leave the room? Of course you won't want to be far away, but even small children can survive crying the three minutes it takes you from the hotel restaurant to your room.
  • I respect that religious rules are meant to be taken seriously, but might there be an argument for breaking or at least bending a rule in this case? I don't think rules are meant to make your life needlessly harder. What would the consequences be of breaking the rules if you have no other choice?

Notes:

(1): Long-range baby monitors are powerful enough to transmit from a 3rd-floor hotel room into the hotel's 1st-floor restaurant. If in doubt, call the hotel and ask whether they provide baby-monitoring equipment -- many hotels have low-radiation equipment that works through the hotel's internal network so they work in the entire hotel.

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Thanks for this! Quick question responses - (A) At home this is not necessary - because my daughter is in a separate room. She doesn't wake up at minor disturbances, but she won't sleep if adults are active around her. (B) Neat idea! Problematic for me on the holiday - and I don't know that I'm comfortable leaving a toddler in a locked room with only a monitor. But... intriguing. (C) Many religious rules are meant to make your life needlessly harder! I love 'em anyway. –  Ziv Feb 27 '12 at 21:37
    
@Ziv: RE: (B) I would not recommend it for an infant, but we carefully "risked" it when our son was 1 and it worked well. Once you learn to trust the tech and know the limits (and your staircase fitness) this becomes easier. RE: (C) I wouldn't know; I'm a firm nonbeliever :-) but I accept that some beliefs have some rules that outsiders just don't "get." –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Feb 27 '12 at 21:53

Big family event, sounds like at least a couple dozen people . . . and your daughter is the youngest and only? Really? I could be wrong but that's what it sounds like.

Also, we're talking about family. Even distant family that I only see once a year usually goes into instinctive "on guard" mode when there's a tiny one toodling about. In other words, you may not need to be as super-attentive as you need to be but that's dependent upon the voluteer vigilance of others. Best way to figure that out is to talk to another family member.

And while you're on the phone with someone, you can follow up on my core recommendation: Conscription. Talk to the family member that you think will be most willing and conscript... ok enlist... them to be 2nd/3rd in command. Someone to help you keep eyes on the lights of a baby monitor or at a toddler running around at dinner time.

Here I can come back around to my first point. At meal time, with the adults sitting around the table, (if you're like me, you'll be there well after the meal is over just to kibitz) this is the time when all the kids will be making their own fun. It's just pretty much the way things go.

However, if there are no other children younger than say 8, I would suggest that you be prepared to pass this year. Parents of an 8 yo don't necessarily miss having an infant or toddler and may not be willing to help much. This will have the obvious effect on burden plus have the potential for creating social issues.

Anyway, the best thing you can do is talk to a couple other attendees and see what they think... see if they, or if they think others, would be willing to play helpsies.

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It's a bit smaller than that... say a dozen people. One other kid, a one-year-old. I can definitely enlist others in the family for babysitting duty, and have her babysat round-robin throughout. That'd definitely help the meals; I might even be able to find volunteers for the naptimes...I'm basically wondering if this isn't too much of a hassle, for me and everybody else. But this is definitely a good way to lighten the load. –  Ziv Feb 28 '12 at 5:40
    
@Ziv i know i'm tardy with this reply, but the theme of my response is basically saying that "It's family. They won't mind." And if there are the couple of people in the family that DO mind, they simply won't help but I doubt they'll complain. It's really not that hard, it seems you're overconcerned about encroaching other peoples good times. Guess what... if they're like most families, they won't care and they'd rather have you there and put up with a bit of baby noise than not have you there. Go. Just be aware and in charge of your kid. –  monsto Mar 4 '12 at 21:31

I am obviously from a different world because we LOVE family events with our 20-month old toddler. During family events, it's not 20 other family members that we're around - it's 20 other loving and trusted babysitters. I barely see my kids during family events and get time to play games and relax. Our kids are the youngest ones around and the first kids of their generation (first grandkid, great-grandkid, etc.)

Having sad that, napping is difficult. I find that my daughter doesn't even want to go down for a nap with so many people around. She is enthralled by the new place and all the people giving her attention. Her naps are almost always delayed, that or she'll skip it entirely and go to bed earlier, or there'll be people holding her as she is sleeping.

I don't bother taking toys, etc. because our toddler is fascinated enough by her surroundings. I do bring an extra set of clothes, her stroller (someone can take her for walks / ride in the stroller ). I don't bring her "blankie" or favorite toy (fear it'll be lost). I do let her see me once in a while so she knows I am there.

For meal times, family members volunteer to hold/play with our toddler as we eat. Usually, whoever finishes eating first in the family will happily go play with our toddler. Sometimes one of us (hubby/wife) just has to hold her at the table (on our lap) as the other eats, and then we alternate.

Overall, I'd recommend to integrate her into family events instead of skipping them. They are about family, after all - and she is family.

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It sounds to me like you are really stressed out.

A lot of this depends on how willing you are to let other family members play babysitter, and how willing they are to do it. Not all family members are willing to take over babysitting duties for a relative. I'm one of those people. There are some people's kids I will watch, and there are others I won't touch with a ten-foot-pole because of their parents--even if they are my nieces and nephews.

I agree with Swati that there is a VERY strong likelihood that your daughter will not nap well because she'll be too interested in what's going on around her. My son NEVER wanted to nap when we visited my in-laws for Christmas; my daughter never misses a nap when we visit my in-laws for Christmas. Baby monitors (even shorter-ranging ones) will work fine if you're only going a few doors down. Really, this is more a situation of you needing to come to terms with the situation more than her. I would bet money that she will be fine.

Ask yourself what self-imposed restrictions are you placing on yourselves that aren't really necessary? We travel with our kids pretty frequently (ages 4 and 1 1/2) and we have found that a lot of time our stress stems from weird restrictions that we place on ourselves that don't really bother or effect our kids that much. Clearly there are things that HAVE to remain somewhat consistent, but the more stuff you can sort of just let go the easier it will be (like, accepting that your daughter's schedule is just going to be shot).

However, if you're THAT stressed-out about the whole thing then don't go. Or arrange a family gathering at a better time of year that is more toddler-friendly. We've skipped plenty of family gatherings because they were simply inappropriate for young children either because of location or time or duration or whatever. People will get over it and there will be other family gatherings when she is older and more socially and behaviorally developed to handle them. Traveling and staying in a hotel with a toddler IS a hassle--I agree 100%. If there aren't going to be things for her to do (places to go or play), there is NO WAY I'd go--family or no family. My kids would be bored within a few hours and be clawing at the walls.

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Yeah, definitely stressed out :/ I'm willing to have others babysit for limited periods of time, I'm... less comfortable with coming on the assumption that babysitting is a job to be distributed across the whole vacation and the whole family. But that feels surmountable. –  Ziv Feb 28 '12 at 10:01
    
As for self-imposed restrictions... the two restrictions that bother me most is "being near sleeping baby == being in same room as sleeping baby" and "public dining room is a bad place for a toddler to run around". I don't think those two are self-imposed. –  Ziv Feb 28 '12 at 10:03
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Well, the public dining room one is definitely one that isn't self-imposed. I would certainly agree that a restaurant dining room isn't a good place for her to run around. And I certainly understand not wanting to feel like you're pushing your daughter off on other family members (I have that same problem. I always feel like "that's my kid, he/she's my responsibility and I shouldn't shove them into your lap because this is your vacation, too". I totally get that. As for napping, if you truly think you HAVE to stay in the room with her while she naps, then maybe the best thing is to –  Meg Coates Feb 28 '12 at 13:12
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schedule a family/parental nap time. Supervising parent sleeps when she sleeps. Otherwise, I would contend that once she's asleep she's not going to know if you're there or not so why are you staying? Absolutely one parent is stuck in the hotel on baby duty, but that doesn't mean you can't go visit your family next door with the baby monitor or read a book or something. As long as the door is locked, no one is going to kidnap her, she's not going to get out, and you're not going to be that far away. I've done this before; it's not a big deal. –  Meg Coates Feb 28 '12 at 13:20

I also keep the Jewish holidays and so understand the situation. I am guessing that you are going for Passover, however, it may just be Shabbat. Either way, here are some suggestions and questions.

1)is there an Eruv? If there is be sure to bring balls and the like to let her get her energy out outside. If there is not then you are pretty much stuck inside the hostel. Bring appropriate toys and games. And be prepared to play (this may be a great opportunity for other members of your family to get to know your daughter, the responsibility does not have to rely entirely on you.

2)Will there be other Jewish families in the Hostel? If so, I am sure there will be other families in your situation. Make friends with the families with similarly ages kids and let them play together.

  1. Meals are hard. Try your best to get your family to eat at the most convenient time for your child (you can always have dessert together later if it is really to early for the adults to eat).

  2. Teach your child (as best as she can learn) little songs about the holiday and let her preform at the meal (between courses, when she is finished, etc) This will of course make you all Kvell, make her feel good, and give her something to do. Don't worry about the other guests in the hotel, no one minds a SHORT thing from a kid, who won't be very loud anyway.

  3. I usually don't advocate toys at the table, however, in this type of setting bring crayons when permitted, or cars/dolls that she can play with in her seat.

You and she can both do this, and your famlily should not miss out on this age, kids are great and resilient. In terms of her nap, try to get adjoining rooms with someone else in the family so that you all can be together and she can nap.

Good luck, have fun and enjoy!

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2: if you can get a 1 year 10 months baby to perform a song then you're amazing! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Feb 28 '12 at 15:41
    
Wow! Great to have such on-target advice. I appreciate this muchly. I particularly like the idea of turning "playing with my daughter" into a family event (not "my responsibility" or "foist this responsibility on family member X"). BTW, it's Passover's second holiday+Shabbat. Fun-fun-fun! –  Ziv Feb 28 '12 at 15:48
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@TorbenGundtofte-Bruun: Perform, no, but when she latches on to a song she's overjoyed to complete the last word of every line... And that's performance enough to keep everybody cooing :D –  Ziv Feb 28 '12 at 15:49

It sounds like you might still have some time. Have you considered pointing out to your family the difficulties you face, and ask that they consider looking for an alternative destination that might eliminate some of your problems?

It sounds like some factors like having private dining, or an adjacent second bedroom available, might make things considerably easier for you, and put the trip more squarely in your comfort zone.

I find that many people forget what it was like with a toddler, but once you remind them, and point out the specific concerns, they tend to be sympathetic and willing to make concessions, particularly if they've been down that road before, and especially if they're part of your family.

I also noted that in another comment, you mentioned that there will be another toddler there. Consider pooling your resources with the parents of other toddler. Four people alternating in shifts to watch two children is less of a stress and hindrance to social interaction than two people alternating to watch one child. You may even be able to share a single room designated for the children as a quiet napping room.

Regarding some of your other specific concerns: For meals, try to time snacking and meals to have your daughter be hungry during the meals if at all possible. The more time she spends eating, the less time you have to chase her around. Plan ahead, and get other family members to agree to share responsibility for watching her, then when she starts to get antsy, pass her off to the next person. If that doesn't work, perhaps she can be distracted by playing with her younger relative. If all else fails, though, be prepared to have one or both of you take her back to your room and miss the rest of the meal. Hopefully you can make it through without problem, but be prepared for the worst.

For toys/entertainment, pick a small list of fairly diverse types of favorite toys (don't bring all books, for example), plus crayons and coloring paper. I believe drawing (at least for a toddler) should be permissible on Shabbat, as it isn't "meaningful" creativity, although you may want to double check with your Rabbi, or possibly on Judaism.SE.

In addition to her toys, she may find showing off to your family to be sufficiently entertaining to amuse her for quite some time, although this depends on her personality, and how well she has warmed up to the crowd. Be sure you can take her somewhere quiet if she finds it overwhelming, though, and don't wait until she's overwhelmed to take her there (look for signs of her being uncomfortable). You may be able to take her for short walks, then bring her back relatively refreshed and ready for another round of social interactions.

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When we travel with our kids, the key is to try and keep the general routine consistent. Bedtimes, meals, nap times. It might mean sacrificing some to keep that routine consistent but it definitely helps quite a bit.

The other suggestion I would have is to try and work with your daughter leading up to the trip. A consistent discipline routine (timeouts) and working with her to sit during meals and not get up until everyone is done. We do that right now with our kids (1 and 3 now) and they are generally pretty good at meal times.

For meals, another thing that could help would be to get in practice for going out to dinner. I know it can be difficult at times, but try to take her out to places that aren't fast food or overly kid friendly in the time between now and your trip. Start out with more kid friendly and start taking her to increasingly less kid friendly places. Getting her used to these different atmospheres and circumstances can help quite a bit. We always eat together at the same time and introduce our kids to things we are having. They may not always like the food, but they usually are good about trying it (within reason). And you should always have a back up plan in case they can't stand what is being served. That way you can quickly and easily get it together and prevent some of the inevitable meltdown that will follow.

If you are with family, that should help out quite a bit. Make sure they all know (some of them may or may not have kids or remember how kids can get). If everyone is on the same page and encouraging good behavior from your daughter, it can go a long way towards making your outings enjoyable.

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