My husband had been exceptionally busy with studying and work. He had had a lot of trips away from home over the last month, and when he was home he was studying. He had definitely not been around the kids as much as they were used to.
Family Vacation Prep Gets Stressful
Now it had come to the first day of the holidays, and we were about to get into the car to start a do a whole day road trip with all three of my kids.
I was going all around the house packing last minute stuff, while my husband was out fixing up the car. We were a little all over the place organizing! Meanwhile, the kids were just nagging, squabbling, teasing and fighting around us.
I kept trying to tell them that we were almost ready to go. I asked them to be a little bit more patient. As you can imagine it only got worse!
A part of me knew that because my husband and I were completely not focussed on them they might be feeling disconnected. Their behavior was a way to let us know exactly how they were feeling. (For more on my thinking behind this, read the post When Your Kids Will Do Anything to Get Attention)
But while one part of me knew they were showing us that they needed attention another part of me was really stimulated.
I found myself wanting to ask, “How ungrateful are you!? We are working hard to make this trip happen for us as a family and you are doing nothing except making it harder for us!”
A Sudden Realisation Into Why My Kids Were Squabbling and Fighting
I thought that I didn't have the patience that day to give them all the attention they needed, and so instead I had a conversation with them about being siblings. About how siblings will always be there for each other. About how they needed to treat each other better because friends can come and go but siblings will always be there.
It was one of those typical conversations that I knew I might regret, but I really just didn't have it in me that day to do anything else.
What jolted me out of that mindset was something my son said. His words took me quite by surprise.
He said, “Yeah, but dads come and go. They travel and leave their kids behind.”
This was a really powerful moment for me. Suddenly I saw how hurt my son was feeling and how much he really needed to feel connected.
At that point, I decided that the trip could wait. It occurred to me that we were actually in no rush to get out of the house that minute, and so I stooped what I was doing, sat on the couch and asked them all to come sit with me.
They all jumped on me of course, so I had one on top of me and the other two under my arms as I hugged them.
I told them that we were about to go on a family trip where we would all be together, all the time. I told them how much we love them, even when we can’t physically be with them.
How Redirecting My Attention Helped
We just sat there for a while hugging, until my husband walked in, and I signaled to him that the kids needed a minute. “Our son was just saying how much he missed you while you were gone.” He immediately got that something was going on, and jumped right in to hug them all too, telling them how he felt while he was away from them, and how much he loves them all.
That day we got into the car and went on a road trip that lasted the whole day. Surprisingly it went very well, unlike any road trip we had done in the past!
The kids were happy, they were relaxed and they were noticing all the beautiful trees and animals along the way.
The world was a good place that day!
Get this ultimate guide to sibling rivalry – learn what drives it, and how to respond in a way that helps kids build close relationships
One Unusual Start to the Vacation That Definitely Paid Off
When we woke up the next morning, we decided that we would take turns having special time with each child. We each did 20 minutes with every child and so the whole thing took two hours that morning. Usually, on vacation, my husband has every minute of the day planned, so it was a really big moment for me to see him put all plans aside and to really appreciate and be excited about this time with our children.
We both felt like we all needed to feel the love and connection that we have towards each other, and that was our priority that day.
We took turns where I would take one child and go off for 20 minutes then come back and another child goes with him for 20 minutes and so on. For me, it was really amazing to have 20 minutes with each child on the same day, which is a rare occasion in our house, as we usually have Special Time on different days. I really reveled in how different each of my children is, and how each one made use of their time with me in a different way.
I focused all of my attention on them like there was nothing else in the world that mattered. I was excited about anything they were excited about, and I really felt like I stepped into each of their little worlds for 20 minutes.
At some point my eldest daughter wanted to exercise by jogging/running, and so even though we were in a relatively busy area, we went on the sidewalk and she set the start and end point and told me to set the timer, and so I did! I stood there cheering her on like she was running a marathon and I couldn't care less what any of the people around us were thinking, I was just having fun with my daughter.
Each of them came back with an Ice cream at the end of their special time with my husband, which was ok!! When I mentioned, “Ice cream! really??”
He responded with “Well, you told me to let them lead the way, so I did!!”
I thought that was really sweet. I was just happy to see what was happening and how happy the kids were from the attention they were getting from us.
How a Few Minutes Undivided Attention Makes for a Happy Family Vacation
They were completely different for the rest of the day, maybe even for the rest of the trip now I think about it. They were getting along better, they were happy, they were enthusiastic about life and they were laughing a lot!
Those few minutes of attention before we left and on the first day really set the tone for our whole trip. I can’t believe we hadn't ever done this on all of our previous trips.
I could tell that Special Time wasn't the easiest thing in the world for my husband to do but he did it! And, as for me, I had this really deep sense of pride in what we had accomplished. I felt more confident in myself as a parent and in my husband, and thankful for stepping into that journey with me.
More Resources for Parenting Through Holidays and Changes in Routine
Not all vacations go as smoothly as this. Read about what to do when your child has big feelings while you are away Why Does My Kid Lose It When We Are Having the Best Time?
Is your partner on board with your parenting? If not, read Parenting from Different Pages
Get this chapter on Special Time from our book free here
Alya el Wakil is an instructor in training with Hand in Hand Parenting.