In 12 years, my husband and I have had two vacations without our daughter. Once, we drove 200 miles to drop her at her godparents; the other time, her grandfather flew 850 miles on an $800 plane ticket to spell us.
Oh, how we envy parents who casually plan romantic getaways sans kids.
“A lot of things have to go right for parents to be able to go away together, leave their kids home and feel comfortable while they’re away,” said Stephanie Newman, a New York-based psychologist and author.
Newman, 48, herself the mother of two, encourages couples to take time for themselves. Nevertheless, she hears during therapy sessions from parents who have a hard time making that a reality.
“It’s a social issue,” she said. More women work outside the home; grandparents might not have traditional retirements; kids are heavily scheduled, making it more difficult for someone to step in; and our increasingly mobile society weakens our support network.
Still, we’re parents, so by definition, we’re resourceful. We might not do it often, but once in a while, we beg, bribe, plead, pay and juggle to find childcare for that important couple’s vacation.
Some parents in a bind will even hire a stranger through an agency, said Candi Wingate, president of the nationwide Nannies4Hire.
When my father visited from Calgary, Canada, I asked him to come a week early and took him through the daily paces. I also left a long list of emergency numbers, provided a spreadsheet of drop-off and pickup times and locations for my daughter; programmed addresses into my car’s GPS in case he got lost; and provided a printout of food I had prepared and frozen.
I thought I’d gone over the top until I spoke with Linda Boden, 43, of Minneapolis. She has traveled every few years with her husband, often out of the country, leaving their two children to be cared for in a tightly choreographed program.
Boden used a combination of sitters at her house so that she didn’t overburden anyone. Weekends were handled alternately by the local set of retired grandparents and the still-working grandparents who drove in from more than two hours away. Weekdays were covered by their regular sitter, who was paid about $100 a night.
She color-coded her spreadsheets, one color for each set of caretakers, and since her son can’t eat gluten, she fussed over food, left lengthy dietary instructions, and even left the children’s snacks organized in the pantry in labeled individual plastic containers.
While not every parent goes to such extremes, you will need to provide sitters with basics like your contact information and itinerary, along with cash or a debit card for food, gas and incidentals.
It’s also important to plan for emergencies. Leave contact information for doctors and dentists, along with copies of medical insurance cards and a note authorizing emergency treatment or a health care proxy form.
Notify schools, sports teams and carpools that someone else will be picking up your child. Finally, consider what would happen if you and your spouse were incapacitated or killed: Does your sitter know how to reach your child’s legal guardian, and does the guardian know where the original legal papers are kept?
What do the caretakers think about all this?
“Micromanaging does get tiresome sometimes,” admitted my 81-year-old father, Jerry Schwartz. But, he added, by having everything laid out, “I don’t have to really work at it. I can just enjoy the experience.”
My father said some of his friends “say they don’t have the patience” to spend extended time with their grandchildren.
Now that he’s had the experience, would he do it again?
In a heartbeat, he said: “She’s growing up so fast if I don’t do it soon, I won’t have the opportunity.”
I think I’ll go pack.