Over the course of any given day, I get many glimpses into how other people parent their children. But those moments in time, those little peeks, are nothing compared with being in an all-inclusive child-friendly resort for a week with a ton of other families. We recently returned from a week-long vacation in Cuba. It provided both well-needed respite from snow and work, as well as an opportunity to observe different vacation parenting styles under a microscope.
The parenting styles I observed, with some creative license on the descriptions, are (note: the pics are not intended to be related to the descriptions - I'm just sharing a few of our photos with you):
- Helicopter parents: These parents hover over their children and their every experience on vacation. They are always armed with hand sanitizer, life jackets and sun block, even while holding their child's hand in the just-been-cleaned ankle-deep shaded part of the baby pool. Some keep their kids securely on a harness, in a stroller, or in a high chair at all times. They take the burgers from the buffet and bring them to the grill for extra grilling. They bring bottled water, juice boxes and bed sheets from home because the ones at the resort are not good enough.
- Don't bug me: Parents on vacation want a vacation too. I observed a number of different tactics used to get this while in the presence of your child. Some parents simply turn their back and ignore. They don't hear the screaming, don't notice the 2 metre high waves and red flag at the beach as their children wade in, don't notice their children pushing other kids into the pool. Some parents turn to technology to allow them a quiet lunch, peaceful plane ride, or romantic drink at the bar. This ranges from occasional strategic use of technology to pulling out personal DVD players for both children at each meal.
- Helicopter parenting from the comfort of your lounge chair: One of the parenting styles I observed the most frequently was a combination of the first two. The children were on a short leash, but instead of hovering over the children, the parents screeched incessantly at them from the comfort of their lounge chairs. Get down from there. Don't go so far. Stop splashing your sister. If that didn't work, they might send a sibling over with threats of no dessert.
- I'm a kid again: Many parents carry beautiful nostalgic memories of childhood vacations filled with ice cream, sand castles, and jumping in the waves. A vacation with their kids gives them the opportunity to do it all over again. They build monstrous sand castles at the beach, get in line with the kids for treats at the snack bar, have fun playing with the clown, and eat nothing but burgers and fries all week. They are so exhausted by the end of the day that they collapse into bed at the same time as their kids and then wake up the next day to start it all over again.
- Vacationing without your child: Most all inclusive resorts also have a baby club or kids club where you can leave your child for an hour or two or for the day. For older kids who want to join in and enjoy the activities, they seem like a great idea. But for the babies that get kept in a back room with a stranger, it seems to be all about what the parents want to get out of the vacation. The alternative to that is people who choose to leave their kids at home. I haven't done either myself and if I did feel the need to vacation alone with my husband, I would probably be more likely to opt for leaving them at home (not for a newborn who is physically dependent obviously) with a trusted caregiver that they know than to leave them all day with a stranger that the child doesn't know. But at such a young age, neither of the alternatives appeals to me yet. For what it is worth, I think people who are vacationing without their kids should choose a child-free resort if they don't want to be around kids at all. Don't give me a dirty look about my kids laughing and having fun just because you're paying for a babysitter at home.
Not so much a full parenting style (more of a tactic), but as a bonus I bring you:
- Cry it out on vacation? I don't know if parents who routinely use cry it out do not know how to soothe their children's cries or are just choosing to be consistent while on vacation, but on both this vacation and others I have seen (and heard) parents who seemed to be using the cry it out technique on an airplane or in a hotel. I wanted to scream "give the baby a boob, pacifier, bottle, whatever..." but I didn't and wouldn't. I just hope these parents were truly at a loss and couldn't figure out how to calm their baby down and were not choosing to subject their child and the rest of us to this on vacation.
Vacationing with your kids can be hard and it can be rewarding. Parents are out of their comfort zone and kids are outside of their regular routine. All of this can make tensions high and parents uncertain what to do or how to act. I offer these up not so much as a criticism, but as an eye-opener and thought provoker. In fact, there may be some of me in some of these descriptions, but I'm not admitting which one(s)!
If you are heading off on vacation, what type of parent do you want to be? What type of parenting will allow both you and your children to have a nice vacation? What can you do to prepare to help you and your kids relax and have fun?