1 Year Later Reflections: 25 Rules for Mothers of Sons

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It has been quite a strange year since originally posting my 25 Rules for Mothers of Sons post last November.  It was a post that (as I originally wrote) came out of the frustration of not finding a quick little list of ways that I could be there for my son at a moment that I was feeling very ill-equipped at responding to his energy and wildness.  Very quickly he went from learning to walk - to learning to run.  From being curious to being defiant.  From getting into some stuff to getting into everything (and usually destroying it along the way).  I was in a place last November in a little bit of a panic.  I grew up with all sisters and mostly all girl cousins.

I had little experience with boys to draw from outside of teaching 5-10 year olds.  I went on this massive book buying spree (while my husband shook his head) because I was afraid that I wasn't supporting my son's emotional growth, that my son was more violent/wild/unafraid/unfocused than other boys his age.  It was not a confident moment in my parenting.  So I read the books and took a very serious look at the men in my life that were examples of what I wanted my son to be.  And then I wrote the list, mostly for myself to look at when the hard days needed a focus I could cling to - to remind me to be grateful.

After writing the list, I pinned it myself (in November), nothing much happened - a few re-pins, but it was the same old blog traffic.  We made it through the December holidays and then when I woke up in the new year - I think it was Jan 2nd, I saw that my blog traffic was exponentially higher than it had ever been.  I woke my husband up at 7am and said, "Something weird is happening."  (which is a theme in our relationship and I say it at very important moments.)

The next two weeks were very distracting.  I watched as a my pageviews continued to increase, I was getting blog followers that were strangers (up until this point, most of my followers were family & friends), new comments were coming in by 8-9 at a time.  It was all very exciting and a little scary.  Most of the comments were amazing and supportive, but some of them were scathing and demeaning. I was asked countless times if it could be re-posted on other blogs (thank you all who asked first before posting), but many times I would google the phrase of my blog post and found it in places that had re-posted without every mentioning that I was the author (I have confronted them and they've happily updated, but I still find instances of this a year later).

There were times that I went to Brandon in tears when I was overwhelmed by the kindness of some readers' comments.  I had just put our son in timeout for the third time that day, all I wanted to do was get a glass of wine and sit quietly by myself, and I literally had a hole in the crotch of my mom pants.  Who was I to be dishing up motherhood advice?  And then there were other times when I went to Brandon in tears when I was overwhelmed by the hatefulness and judgement of some readers' comments.

Another strange thing that happened was with all the new readers, I had a moment of panic of all the pictures of my son on the blog where I wrote about him using his real name(!) - including pictures of my friends' kids and our family members - I didn't know if I needed to change my style to protect myself or protect the people I cared about.  (Luckily, I received a very kind and supportive return email from Sherry over at Young House Love telling me that I should keep doing what I'm doing with confidence).

Over the course of a year, I have not responded to any comments about the post because it has been too close to my heart - too personal.  This was a list about my son and I and who I wanted to be for him.  And there were strangers all over the world happy to take the liberty of speaking about it, reprinting it, accusing it, and praising it.

Alas, a year has gone by and I am ready to respond some of the most frequently asked/questioned/attacked topics that have come out of this post.

FAQ 25 Rules for Mothers of Sons:

Why did you specify this is for Mothers of sons when it applies to daughters too?
At the time I was writing it, I only had a son.  Since I was writing it for me, and writing it from looking at the qualities I valued in the men around me - it was a list for me as a mom of a boy.  Now having a daughter, I can see that many of the things I have listed here apply as things I want to do for my girl too, with maybe a few other things to add or change.  I am inspired by how many other 'boy moms' have reached out to say that my post spoke to them.  Whether you are a boy mom or a girl mom or a mom to both sons and daughters - thank you to those of you that could read it with an open-mind and connect it to your life in someway.

Will you write a similar list now that you have a daughter too?
My blog friend, Sarah over at Diapers & Daisies was inspired to write a 25 Rules for Mothers of Daughters list after she read my list for her own daughter.  You may have seen it on pinterest?  Her list tipped very shortly after mine and I still get blog traffic directed over from her site (hi, Sarah!)  I have been brainstorming a list for my daughter, but it has a different feel than my 25 Rules for Moms of Sons list.  Look for it to be posted in the new year.

Why do you assume that your son will be straight (with the mention of a wife at various points in the post)?  
I respect and celebrate the fact that my son will love whom ever he wants in the future.  Since he was only 17 months when I wrote the post (and still is very young today), most of the inspiration for the rules came from looking around at the men I respect in my life.  Mainly, my husband, my father, and my father in law. The wife I reference in the blog post in all instances are me.  The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship between my own mother and my grandma was awe-inspiring and the mother-in-law/daughter relationship I have is strong and respectful because both of our husbands' mothers exemplified these same 'rules.'  Since this is a list for Mothers....with sons - I wanted a way to look at what I was doing now so that in the future I might have the same type of relationship with my son's partner (female or male) that I have now with my mother-in-law.

Rules#6 & 7:  Why do you give gender stereotype adjectives to men and women? (strong & powerful men and beautiful women)?
I choose these words intentionally because that is what society has already dubbed us (historically at least).  I wanted to illustrate that when beaten down both strong & powerful are synonyms for beautiful.  And if society would allow it - men would be considered beautiful and women strong & powerful in many more instances.  Unfortunately when you see those words flipped in media - beautiful for a man usually means a certain kind of man; sexy, mysterious, strong features, etc.  Strong & powerful for a woman in the media is tight clothed, tight body, tight hair...hmm, I'm noticing a theme.  I wanted to breakdown the stereotypes to show at the heart of all the adjectives can be the same qualities of decency and morality.  Shout out to Andee who commented on my post at the Good Men Project and explained it to some of other confused readers - (thanks Andee!):

Why would you include Oprah in your list of beautiful women?
This one boggles my mind and is probably in the top 5 critiques of my list...why so many people got beef with Oprah?  Oprah made the list because she continues to persevere despite adversity and she comes up with these ideas that shape the minds of people towards kindness and giving.  She cares about education and uses her platform as a media mogul to bring injustices and usually uncomfortable topics to light.  She brings ideas to people.  I don't know if the issue with her is over her wealth, or her religious beliefs, or just plain jealousy that she is awesome, but if you don't know about her childhood sexual abuse and what she made of herself after what she went through - then you don't know Oprah, man.

Rule#8 Do you not think that adoptive mothers are superheros too?
This question has come up a few times and is unfortunate because it comes from reading too quickly.  Rule #8 says, "if you ever fear that you are somehow incapable of doing anything - remember this:  If you have done any of the following..."  That means any piece of anything else listed.  I mention two parts about being pregnant and giving birth (which I do believe are heroic) but the rest is about raising children in an capacity.  My viewpoint about women = superheros actually encompasses many versions of us as women - adoptive mothers (especially!), aunts, teachers, grandmas - bottom line:  anyone who helps to raise children with patience, respect, and love - all superheroes.

Rule #10.  Give him something to believe in
Oh, how people ate this one and chewed it up.  I wish there was a filter I could do on the comments to pull out those that have spoken about Rule #10 just to show the wide breadth of what people believe I should have said/meant/included.  The comments on this one ranges from aliens to Jesus.  From brainwashing to Bible thumping.  I choose the phrase, 'something to believe in' with intention.  I want my son to grow up believing in many things; I recognize he might change his mind or stubble or go astray over the course of his life and challenges.  But I don't ever want him to stop believing in something - that is where our hope lies.  In the belief of something steady and constant.  Whatever that might be, I want to make sure he holds on to that hope.

Shout out to Julie who made me smile and cyber high five her for comment in response to other readers (thanks for having my back, Julie!  -wherever and whoever you might be):

Rule #20 Let his dad teach him how to do things...without interrupting about how to do it the 'right way'
So many people responded that this rule was their favorite - these were the people that read this 'rule' just as I had written it.  Because as a typeA mom who spends significantly more time with our kids than my husband (who works away from our home), I, personally, have a hard time thinking that any way other than the way I do things is the right way.  I recognize this as my own flaw and I have to stop my trap from flying open when when I hear my husband reading the Monster book without any voices for different characters.

So many people also responded that they thought this rule was ridiculous - that it was proof I had no respect for my children's father - that I was assuming I think all kids have a relationship with their dad...etc.  I understand that many of these people didn't understand what I was trying to say, or had bitterness in their heart and couldn't bend the rule to fit their family.  And that is fine.  But something about the accusations which hinted that I don't have respect for our kids' dad, my Bud; probably hurt the worst of all the negative comments.  I spoke to Brandon about it and his response was, "Tab, those people know nothing about the person you are outside of this one post-  It doesn't matter what they think anyway - I know how you feel."

Since my 25 Rules for Mothers of Sons tipping point, some cool things have happened and some bizarre things have happened.  Here's some examples if anyone is interested in connecting the dots of the life of my blogpost over the course of the last year:

  • I was introduced to The Good Men Project website when they asked if they could re-print my 25 Rules for Moms of Sons blogpost.  My post is viewed over 10K+ times almost weekly over there since they originally ran it in April.  The Good Men Project has become one of my favorite websites and I stop by regularly to read their fascinating articles about men and what it means to be a 'good man' in today's world.  Like them on facebook!  (They didn't tell me to tell you that - I'm just telling you that because it's a good idea)
  • One of the craziest discoveries (totally by chance) was that my blogpost was discussed on a podcast by the The Mom Podcast group in September and is free to download off of iTunes.


  • If you google search the exact title of my blogpost "25 Rules for Mother of Sons" my original blogpost isn't the first to show up anymore.  It's not even listed on the first page!  (Very big thank you though to those listed in the top slots that give me credit as the author.)

  • My original pin that I placed on Pinterest after writing the blogpost in November 2011 that started out as being re-pinned 3 times, has now been re-pinned 1644 times.  And I snagged 1000+ followers on pinterest after tipping.  (Hello, pinners! thanks for hanging around!)  My blog is still mostly pinned for my 25 Rules for MoS - but some of my other posts are making their way to pinterest - very exciting and humbling.

  • My friends and family have randomly been contacting me over the last year to let them know they found out about my blogpost from facebook or pinterest or from a friend.  It has been so fun and unbelievable to hear from people in my life reaching out to let me know that they support me and to share their stories.  

Even though it has been quite a wild and interesting ride - there are moments that stand out to me as truly the defining moments of my journey as a writer:

The countless people who commented to say that my list had affected them (many to tears).
The readers that told me that they found my list on exactly the day they needed to because they were having a hard day/at their wits end with boy energy/feeling not as grateful as they hoped for the crazy.
The mothers who emailed and told me that they found this list because they received it from their son with a note that said, "thanks Mom, you did all of these things."

And especially this comment from Marcy (wherever and whoever you might be).  I may never receive a greater compliment about my writing in my life.  And for that I am honored and so deeply humbled.

At the end of the line, for me, the greatest of all prides in this journey of my blogpost (that went from our silly little family blog - to making its way around the internet and has been read millions of times):  it is that it grew from inspiration from a boy.  my boy.   I have printed all of the comments from my post to add to his baby book with this note:  Because of your life and the inspiration you have given my heart that spoke to my brain and moved my fingers - you have inspired moms and their sons around the world, my sweet darling. You are a history maker.  I love you forever and ever - thank you for the inspiration everyday.

And as a side note about my blog in general:
Why don't you respond to comments or emails (no one has ever actually asked me this directly, but I imagine you might be thinking this)?
Writing for the blog is something that I do in the time that I can squeeze between my full time job, cleaning the house, making time to be a wife, and full time mom'ing.  Sometimes I can't even get it together enough to write the blog and take totally unannounced 2 week long blogcations.  I feel immense guilt in my horrible respond time to emails and blog comments.  I am truly sorry for that.  But...I am so happy and honored to hear from my readers.  Thank you for following, thank you for emailing and commenting.  Thank you for caring enough about what is happening in our silly, happy life enough to stop by and read.  I am grateful for you and I don't say it enough.

Elf on the Shelf: The Studer Team version

Sunday, November 25, 2012

preface:  this is how OUR family has incorporated Elf on the Shelf because of OUR beliefs.  We adapted the tradition to fit what we believe.  No matter how different our beliefs are from yours - you can do the same thing; adapt it to fit what your family believes.  In no way is the below post meant as an invitation to you to belittle, condemn, or evangelize   If you don't agree with it, great.  I don't really care to hear about it.

If you haven't heard about the Elf on the Shelf craze, you are definitely not on pinterest.  Holy elf-tricks, batman.  We are first time Elf sitters this holiday season, even though I had heard about the little guy last year.  Granted, Grey probably wasn't old enough last year to really get it - but I was very hesitant in jumping on the Elf bandwagon.

I had some initial issues with the Elf idea - first, we talk to our kids about being good all the time, not because you'll get presents from Santa or because someone is 'watching you.'  It also felt like it was somehow teaching kids that being good = getting presents.  We try to teach them that we are "good" (or kind/polite/caring) because being good is the right thing to do.  We talk about being nice and kind and trying our best all the time. That is how our family tries to live everyday, not just around the holiday.   So I didn't feel great about the idea of the kids learning (even if it was only silly fun) that a little spy was going to go tattle on them to Santa if they were bad around Christmas.

I also struggled with the major Santa focus and the lack of focus on baby Jesus and His birthday.  This is something that I had an internal battle about since Grey was first born (I'm apparently something of a  worrier, hah).  But we wanted our kids to be able to have some balance between Santa & presents and baby Jesus's presence (you see what I did there, heh).

For some reference, my husband and I are born&raised Catholics.  We attend Catholic church and relish and celebrate the Catholic traditions and holidays.  But we are also influenced in a lot of ways by Buddhism, Judaism, many sects of Christianity, and Science.  We're a mish mash of religion and beliefs (just like our mish mash of genes in our family tree), but our bottom line is that we believe in being kind.  That is where we draw a hard line.

So last  year, I stumbled upon a beautiful painting that touched me and I very quickly purchased it as a piece of our holiday decorations.  The caption on the photo reads, "and every knee shall bend."

There's quite a bit of criticism about the painting (as there tends to be on the internet), but the painting illustrated what we want our kids to know about the holiday - that Baby Jesus and Santa are not separate from each other, but that they 'know, love, and respect each other'.

And this year, I discovered this pin from Leana's blog over at A Small Snippet and it was the light bulb for me on how we can have Elf fun while maintaining what our family stands for.

So I took to drafting up our letter from Santa and I ordered our Elf on the Shelf from amazon.  (The Elf on the Shelf: Plushee Pals)  I did not order the elf+book combo - but rather the plush Elf since the kids are so young and they could snuggle him up if they wanted.

Our elf, Marco, arrived yesterday (in a recycled laundry detergent box posed as a mailed package from the North Pole)

Marco was welcomed into our home with a whole bunch of hugs (and some very slobbery kisses from Gemmi).  We even had a mini dance party with Marco where we were all giggling and yelling, "Go Marco, Go Marco, Go Marco!" while he showed off his pretty sweet moves.

As I mentioned yesterday, I planned out the 30 days of Marco madness in my planner, thanks to a very easy Pinterest search of Elf on the Shelf ideas.  It was easy to come up with 30 acts, but I knew if I didn't plan them out - there would be days that I would be scrambling and I was also weirdly concerned that I'd repeat some of the days - hah.

This morning, we had a family hunt for Marco when Daddy pointed out that Marco wasn't sleeping on his shelf (under a burp cloth blanket).   Booboo grabbed his flashlight and we made our way around the house searching for Marco.

Only to find him nonchalantly hanging out in the dining room near a big cereal mess that spelled out "Hi, Grey + Gem."

Grey was quick to tell Marco, "Hey, this is a big mess.  Marco - be nice!"  I announced that we should give Marco a hug to remind him that he needed to be nice and try his best.  "Remember how Daddy and Mum love you and remind you even when  you act a little bit naughty.  We have to love Marco too.  Just like Jesus does."  So we all gave Marco a hug (and Gem gave him a slobber kiss) and told him to try his best and Booboo said, "and not make big messes."

Booboo then sat on his chair and handed Gemmi a piece of cereal and said, "Look at me Marco, I'm being nice and sharing."

That's the kind of a being 'good' that we are looking for.  The kind that we practice every day of the year.  And the kind that we as a family, even when the kids are very young, can help remind and be examples for a little sometimes-naughty elf from the North Pole.  At this age, Grey loves being the boss and mimicking the things we say - so getting a chance to tell Marco to "not be a naughty boy, honey" is kind of right up his developmental alley.

My kids aren't perfectly well-behaved angels, by.any.means.  They still go in time-out and get yelled at and make us completely insane.  And I have no expectations that spending a month monitoring Marco will change that part in the least.  But we have to practice being kind everyday, all the time, and being with Marco during the holiday season will be a fun way to be an example of kindness and trying our best a little extra than usual.

I am not the first person to think of this idea and certainly won't be the last to edit something to fit it so it will work for us.  Just look at all of these other bloggers/internet writers who have been discussing the same sort of thing.

In case you need or want a jumping off point for your own adaptation (just as Leana's letter inspired mine), here is our letter.  It's written for the audience of a 2.5year old with the type of language that we use on a daily basis ("trying our best", etc).

happy holidays!

2012 pre-holiday jitters

Saturday, November 24, 2012

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I apologize for my totally unannounced blogging hiatus.  I had some sort of pre-holiday jitters this month that came out of the blue and attacked my psyche and set me into a strange laziness coma.

It started after my best friend's 30th birthday party, where I got royally inebriated and danced 2 years worth of pent-up adult freedom out of my bones.  It was awesome to spend the evening with my two best friends...then it was not very awesome the next day when I was incredibly hungover and remembering why I haven't had that much to drink since become a mother; because you are required to act as someone's mother even when you feel like crap and it takes multiple days to recover because I'm an old lady now....anyway, then I was on the phone with a friend who asked what my plans were for the following Thursday, and I was like, "oh, I don't know, why?"  And he was like, "you aren't doing anything for Thanksgiving?" and I was like,

and then I looked at my to do list, and looked around our cluttered/dirty house, and then i glanced at my list of blog posts that need written, and then in an ill-fated moment, I pinsearched "kid christmas" and realized I in no way possess the gumption to make holiday treats that look like santa hats and i was like, "gulp, i'm going to take a nap and wear jammies because there are too many things to do - so i'm not going to do any."

To perfectly sum up my sentiment, my friend Melodye posted this someecard to my facebook wall, and I honestly thought for a moment that maybe she can read minds (Melodye, can you, though?)

so yea, that's what happened to me.
Good news though, it seems I have sorted out my panic and I'm in a much better place these days.  Granted, I'm right now still in my jammies at almost noon - but give me a break - its Saturday.

We've got some things moving in the right direction now.  We've celebrated Thanksgiving (which is my second favorite holiday of the year) and we put a plan of action in place to attempt to get our house organized by new years so that it isn't weighing on our minds for a brand new year (we're going to tackle small parts a little each day starting this week until the end of the year)

I've documented all the blog posts that I have brewing that need finished (including a 25 Rules for Moms with Sons:  1 year later FAQ, our vacation recap, and three months worth of superlatives).  Look for more blogging coming from me, on a more frequent basis!

Holiday cards have already been designed, ordered, and delivered - the earliest I have EVER had them done in the history of my adult life.  I ordered them from Shutterfly (like always) and thanks to their promo, some coupon codes from RetailMeNot - I saved $52 on my order!!!  (cue jaw dropping to the floor)

And we welcomed a visitor to our house this morning; Marco the Elf.  I'll post more about him very soon (including our note from Santa), but to help ease the anxiety about 25 days of Elf mischief, I've already planned out Marco's naughtiness for all upcoming 30 days in my planner, so that I'm not scrambling/forgetting each day.  (thank you, pinsearch "elf on the shelf")

Here's to dropping the pre-holiday jitters and enjoying the season.  Cheers (and good luck!) to all of you out there!

Thank YOU! Thursday: Thanksgiving edition 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

After my short blogging hiatus (which I will discuss more in depth tomorrow), I am back and what better way to re-enter the blogosphere than with my favorite blog project:  Thank YOU! Thursday.  Since it's the biggest and baddest of all Thursdays in the year...let's get to being grateful for the things that make me happiest in this life:

1. I'm thankful for my husband, who's face is more familiar to me than my own.  His voice sounds like home and his neck smells like heaven.  He is the hand I am holding when life is too scary, or too wonderful, or too overwhelming, or too sad, or too giving.

2. I'm thankful for my sweet babies that are growing so strong and fast.  Their cheeks, necks, and the tops of their heads are made of something so sweet it must be magic.  The depth of my love for these humans that call me, 'mumma,' is so vast and abyssal that it is both terrifying and exhilarating.

3. I'm thankful for the people that make up my family - both by blood and those by love alone.  The people that have shaped and changed me, and still do to this day.  Their moods affect my mood because the strings between our hearts are so tightly wound.  When they are hurting, as am I.  When they are happy, as am I.

4. I'm thankful for our friends.  Friends so wonderful that I feel self-conscious.  How we have so many wonderful people in our life seems unfairly unbalanced.  The examples of friends that surround my children of what a 'good person' looks like is astounding.

5. I'm thankful for the things I take for granted every day.  Warm drinks in the morning, running water, a faithful, supportive, and kind husband, healthy and happy children, health in general, money in our bank accounts, freedom to be who I want to be and love who I want to love, safety, warm clothes, access to inspiring and educational resources, our home, and sunshine.

6. I'm thankful for the small blessings that sometimes happen during hard days that relax my furrowed eyebrows and ease the tension in my shoulders.  Like getting up early enough to drink my coffee in silence, the kids giggling together in the bathtub, the dogs lapping up the entire sippy cup of milk that spilled in the kitchen, my husband surprising me with chocolate bars when he gets home from work, a call from my sisters, a text from a friend, an uninterrupted hot shower, and quick bedtimes.

7.  I'm thankful for today.  To wake up in a new day to try again, and maybe even a little better today than yesterday.  To feel him wrap his arm around my waist and kiss my neck good morning.  To see the first smile of her day before I pick her up out of the crib.  To hear, "I love you Mumma, because I'm your darling," from his little voice that sounds so small, yet so honest.  To eat good food and laugh at silly jokes.  To relish in naptime yet barely be able to wait for it to end to see them again.  To try to be more patient and mindful than yesterday.  To try to be more present and kind than yesterday.

My mom introduced me to this quote last night, and I am thankful to have more concise words for what I'm skirting around to explain -

"I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today.  I can choose which it shall be.  Yesterday is dead.  Tomorrow hasn't arrived yet.  I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."  - Groucho Marx

Happy thanksgiving to all of you.

I am thankfull.

Tips for preparing for a family vacation with young children

Thursday, November 1, 2012

We've recently returned from our family vacation in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic with our two young kids (ages at the time:  7 months and 2.5 years).  The thing about vacation after you have kids (that people somehow forget to tell you) is that vacationing with children is like regular life, only harder because you don't have all your regular, daily goto's conveniently located.  It's still changing diapers, only now you're digging sand out of baby thigh creases.  And it's wiping faces, only now you're attempting to keep sunscreen out of squirmy kids' eyes.

If you're getting ready for your first vacation as a parent:  think of vacationing without kids and understand that it is nothing like that.  It is like your current daily life with a different backdrop and limited supplies.  Of course it is also sprinkled with some of your best family pictures and moments that are precious enough to distort your memory so you'll keep attempting family vacations in the future.

hahha, I'm only half kidding.

So, I'm sharing my 10 tips for preparing your young family for vacation, in hopes to help other mommas (and daddies) keep a little piece of sanity in the pursuit of happy family vacation memories:

1.  Make lists
My main list for vacation is the packing list.  I separate my packing list into categories - I have found it is even more important to catalog the 'no-duh' type things (toothbrush, baby wipes, etc) because when it comes time for packing, those are the things that I am most likely to forget.

I also keep a special section for things that are an absolute necessity - as in "if we forget anything else, fine.  but we cannot go without these things" (like passports and baby tylenol)

family packing list categories
Besides a packing list, I also make a list for the last-minute-house-sweep.  That list is important because as we're trying to wrestle two kids and a bunch of luggage into the car (inevitably at the last possible moment that we have to leave), we want to make sure we don't have to turn around and come back because we forgot to do an important house chore.  This list usually looks like this:

  • turn down the heat
  • lock the doors
  • empty the kitchen garbage
  • unplug big electronics (tv, computers)
  • leave a note for the neighbors (pet sitters)

2. Practice
It is always important to practice, but especially when the kids are going to experience something new.
Some possible important new things to practice with you kids before your trip:

  • Using toys appropriately for certain places (like wearing headphones when using the iPad on the airplane)
  • Airport security.  (set up a pretend security line at your house and practice removing shoes and coats, and placing electronics in plain sight of kids who can't use them right at that second - even though they want to)

Practicing airport security in our living room 

our fake airport security line - complete with shoe bins!

  • New vacation-related equipment (let them use unfamiliar equipment in a familiar place)

Testing out the sun tent in our living room 

goggle practice in the shower
3.  Get the kids involved
Help the kids get themselves prepared for a new place by:

  • Looking at pictures together of your destination and hotel
  • Talking to them about the weather and activities you have planned.  
  • Showing them where you are going on a map and talk about how you'll get there and get back.  
  • If you're going somewhere that speaks a different language - teach them (at least) the two most important phrases - Hello and Thank you.  
  • Letting them bring and pack (with light weight objects) their own carry-on (with the knowledge that you'll probably have to carry it yourself at some point).  

4. Plan your distractions
This is a parent's bag of tricks.  When the kids are bored - what can you pull out of the diaper bag next?  Make sure your magic hat includes distractions enough to get you through delayed flights, overdue mealtimes, and homesick babies.  We suggest:

  • electronics ('tis the age of technology; ain't no shame in it:  iPad, smartphones, dvd players, etc)
  • snack foods (we love GoGo Squeez and Gerber crunchies)
  • light-weight, easy to transport toys (toy cars, baby keys, mini paper books, etc)
  • things that feel/smell like home (favorite stuffed animal, blankie, pacifier, etc)
  • My friend Nora has a great list & review of some travel distractions & flight tips - read her list here.
easy-to-transport toy car driving map (construction paper)

5. Prepare for your return
We all know its a total drag to come home after vacation with suitcases to unpack of wet clothes and kids that are travel-cranky.  So I try to make our return home a little less hateful by doing the following things before we leave:

  • eating/getting rid of bread and left overs
  • holding the mail (or having a neighbor collect it)
  • washing dirty laundry
  • making sure there are no dirty dishes in the dishwasher
  • emptying the garbage cans (and diaper genie)
  • putting clean sheets on the bed
  • making sure we won't have to run right to the store when we get home.  aka - confirming necessities (diapers, wipes, formula)

6. Pack with purpose
You are going to be responsible for squirmy children AND you are going to be responsible for carrying all of the supplies your family will need for the duration of your vacation - makes sure to pack with purpose!  Use these four main guidelines when thinking about what needs to go in the luggage:

  • SAFE:  what do you need to keep your kids and family safe?  (sunscreen, butt cream, medicines, passports/ID, cash/credit cards)
  • PRACTICAL:  what is going to be highly useful to have away from home?  (small amount of dish washing detergent, bottle brush, band-aids, q-tips)
  • SMART:  what can you do today that your future self will thank you for?  (put plastic wrap under the twist caps of your liquid bottles, pack empty garbage bags (for dirty clothes repacking), bring your camera charger)
  • CONVENIENT:  Vacations are for relaxing, not breaking your back over luggage! (pack mix&match clothing, limit accessories and shoes)

7. Get real
Vacations are supposed to be a chance to vacate from your everyday life.  The caveat there, of course, is with kids it is impossible to vacate from certain parts of your everyday life - like changing diapers and mixing bottles.  So get real about it and make sure you're going to have what your kids are going to need.

  • Slightly over pack on diapers and wipes (you know there's bound to be a blowout or two).  
  • If you are taking bottles - it will be helpful to have the tools to clean them (see above).  
  • Find a way to accept the fact that it will probably be more advantageous to maintain napping schedules than trying to wrestle cranky sleep-deprived children.  
  • If your kids refuse sunscreen - find another method of sunblock (hats, uv long-sleeved clothing) because the only thing worse than being sun burnt yourself is being the parent to a sun burnt toddler.

Keep in mind, just about everywhere you vacation will have the necessities if you end up running out of something (diapers, wipes, formula) - also know that THEY know that you need them.  So be ready to pay double than normal.

8.  Pick a leader
One of our sure-fire marriage/parenting success tools is our 'pick a leader' method when it comes to non-daily activities.  It is our way of handing over trust and responsibility to the other person for specific scenarios.  We have found that it takes almost all of the opportunities for arguing when faced with unfamiliar situations.  We both agree that if we know we'll be in a situation that is not normal to our family - one of us becomes the leader and the other follows direction.  No trying to talk over each other or assuming the other knows what we're thinking.  It also allows us to take full ownership if something goes awry when we're the leader - so no blame game either.  For example:

  • Packing the bags:  I'm the leader. I'm the one that packs the bags, makes the lists, gathers the kids' stuff.  B leaves full trust in me that I'll pack the stuff he's picked and laid out - along with the 14 other things he forgot to say he wanted to pack
  • Loading the car:  B's the leader - he's way better at tetris than me
  • Navigating the Airport:  I'm the leader, only because I have slightly more experience in air travel
  • Collecting/accounting for luggage:  B's the leader (I take the kids and we wait out of the way)

9. Prepare for the worst
I don't mean to be all doom and gloom - but with young kids in tow, chaos will always find it's weaselly way into your day.  So try your best to prepare for annoying things that might pop up.

We got a prescription for a 'blanket antibiotic' for the kids in case either of them came down with something while we were in a different country.  We put baby's tylenol, swimmer's ear drops, and butt cream in our 'REQUIRED!' packing list category.  Some other possible 'worse case scenario' precautions:

  • make up a secret 'code word' to use when knocking on the hotel door.  make sure the kids know that if the person knocking doesn't know the code word - they don't open the door
  • make copies of your passports and credit cards and get them notarized to leave with a family member/friend 
  • if you're traveling somewhere that speaks a different language - make sure you know (or have a copy of how to say/write) important pieces of information - like food allergies or medical conditions

And in case you haven't seen this list of The Super Ten Play-it-Safe Rules for Kids and Adults from Safely Ever After- read it now and talk about it with your kids - this list is for all the time, but a quick refresh before vacation is a good idea.

10. Prepare for the best
There will also be some awesome moments and memories that come out of your family vacation - that's why we keep doing it! - so make sure you're also ready for the best of times too

  • pack your camera charger!!
  • bring along a bag (or baggie) to hold special mementos - like shells, tickets, or bracelets
  • make a vacation playlist
  • pack a real live grown up book (or gossip mag or absolutely nothing) - the moment might come when the kids are playing happily or napping peacefully and you have got not a thing to do but bask in the quiet

Hopefully with a little extra preparation in the beginning - you'll have to endure only a little bit of vacation that looks like this (come on, you know its inevitable):

But most of your vacation will be smiles and happy like this: