Weekend getaways for couples with children may be hard to arrange, but a few days away with your spouse will pay dividends for months.
Since I live 2000 miles away from both sets of grandparents, when we want to take a couples trip, we often have to get resourceful on who we ask to watch our children. Over the years we have gotten very good at trading kids with friends so that each couple can enjoy a vacation. Many of my friends can't believe I can manage to get away on an annual trip without the kids. It is because I have a lot of children that I priortize some time each year to get away and vacation with my husband.
Over the years of trading kids with friends, here are some tricks I've learned to make the days I'm watching a million kids run a bit smoother.
- Review house rules with everyone.
- Organize. Decide where backpacks, shoes, clothes, etc. will be stored so you are not frantic five minutes before the school bus arrives.
- Decide where everyone is sleeping before they arrive, and if possible, get bedding ready.
- Install car seats. If you are adding car seats to your car, do it the day the kids arrive rather than waiting until 5 minutes before you need to leave the house.
- Hang a picture on your fridge of the vacation you enjoyed with your spouse, or the one you are planning, to remind you that the trade is worth it.
- Prepare the night before. If you are getting kids out the door to school, prepare the night before. Do you know where backpacks, homework, and lunch boxes are?
- Pack lunches the night before. Or better yet, buy school lunch for everyone this week.
- Plan breakfast. Have a plan and be prepared. Can you crack and mix the scrambled eggs the night before? I've even been known to set the table the night before on occasion.
- Get up a few minutes early. Arrive at breakfast dressed and ready so you can focus on helping the kids. Giving yourself a few extra minutes will eliminate last-minute panic.
- Paper goods. This is the week to splurge on those paper plates, cups, and utensils. Minimize dishes when possible.
- Simple meals. Serve healthy but kid-friendly food–spaghetti, quesadillas, pizza, breakfast for dinner, etc.
- Plan snacks. Plan a morning and afternoon snacks and serve snack ONCE to everyone at the same time. Other than snacks, don't serve food between meals or you will spend your entire day in the kitchen feeding hungry mouths.
- Eat early. When possible, serve dinner BEFORE hunger melt-down mode strikes. If dinner needs to be later, a hearty afternoon snack will make your later dinner hour calmer.
- Enlist help. If you have older children, assign each older child a younger child to help at meal time. The older child is responsible for hand washing, serving, and cutting the food for the younger child. Once the younger kids are fed, the older kids can eat.
- Everyone cleans up. Younger kids can throw paper goods away and be “table washers.” Older kids can wash pots and pans and sweep floors. Don't try to do it all alone.
- Carpool. This is a good week to ask a friend to drive the carpool to dance lessons or basketball. Plan your week carefully to make sure you can manage the schedule with the children you are watching.
- Plan for one change of scenery each day, especially for little ones who are not in school. Go to a park, a fast-food play area, Chuck E. Cheese, a play date at a friend's house, etc.
- Plan unique activities at home. Make time for something different-a tea party, a play dough party, baking cookies together, a fashion show, or a Nerf war.
- Consider wrapping a small gift to be opened each day: bubbles, play dough, a new movie, coloring books and markers, a game, puzzles, etc.
- Do something memorable. My kids can't quit talking about the time my brother-in-law created huge banana split bowls for 11 children when he was watching our kids. He created two huge banana splits–one for the girls and one for the boys–and passed out spoons to everyone.
- Designate a clean up time before bedtime. Engage everyone by motivating with a fun reward. Is it a 15-minute race against the timer? Or will we all sit down and watch a show when the house is clean? Does everyone get dessert when the house is picked up? It's amazing how quickly a house recovers when lots of children are excited about what is next.
- Separate kids if needed. Kids can be so excited to have friends sleeping over that no one manages to get any sleep. At my house, we plan for a big sleepover on the weekend when I'm watching kids, but on school nights I try to sleep kids away from whomever they might be silly with at bedtime. Sometimes I put little ones to sleep in separate rooms, my bed, etc. and then move them after they fall asleep.
- Stagger bedtimes. When you have to put several children in one bedroom, my best tip is to stagger bedtimes. Put the youngest child down first, and then 30 minutes later bring in the next child. It is amazing how quiet an older child will be at bedtime when they know their baby brother is asleep in the same room and can't be woken up. I've gotten as many for four or five children asleep in the same room at a reasonable time with this trick.
However you decide to make it work, I am a huge advocate of weekend getaways for couples. Parenting is hard work, and taking a few days to remember what it felt like to fall in love with your spouse is so important to keeping your marriage healthy. Happy vacationing!