Thursday, June 23, 2011

The One About Vacations.

Here's the other thing about family vacations, you all. And I'm not writing this as an argument with my husband, but as a topic of objective discussion on gender studies, so read on. I'm honestly curious what people think about this division of moms' vs. dads' duties, and if this is the way it rolls in your household or not.

When families go on "vacation," in general, the dad is going on vacation. He is leaving his day-to-day work, possibly packing his own suitcase but in some households perhaps not even that, and going somewhere to have fun and relax.

The mom is in no way having a vacation. Not only is she not leaving any of her work duties behind, but her work duties arguably often become more difficult than ever, because a.) the children have to sleep in unfamiliar environments, which, I don't know, maybe is absolutely nothing to your children and maybe your children will conk out in a corner on a pile of coats during a party at someone else's house, but that's not the case with mine, and if you do have a good sleeper like the former description, you will never EVER know what it's like to bring sleep-challenged children somewhere else and then try to get them to sleep there; b.) the children do not have access to their usual amount of toys, games, and distractions with which to entertain themselves (which, admittedly, is not a problem if your "vacation" is somewhere fun like Disney or Hawaii or a water park, but -- ha! laughing -- those are not our vacations); c.) the children get all crazy-off-their-schedule and cranky and difficult (again: maybe your children do not operate on a schedule. Maybe you're all spontaneous and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, what? dinner's not till 7? that's no problem! my kids don't mind! kind of parents, but hahahahaha oh so funny. not the case here; and d.) Mom does not have access to her own vodka.

Kidding! I meant, bottle of wine.

Or, no, I meant, prescription medication. No, wait! You can bring that.

I meant, her own bedroom with a closing, locking door and a television on which to watch the final season of "Friday Night Lights."

The dad spends the week before vacation conducting his daily job and then, for the most part, gets into the car and goes. Fun! Carefree-ness! Vacation!

The mom spends the week beforehand arranging cat- and house-sitting, stopping the mail and newspaper, figuring out which outdoor plants can go 5 days without watering, planning for garbage pick-up arrangements, making written packing lists for each child and herself, making sure everyone has their medications refilled, buying any last-minute gear (oops! she grew out of her swimsuit! or, yikes, I think she'll need a hoodie that fits because it gets cold there), packing suitcases, buying picnic/car-friendly food and snacks and packing snacks and picnic lunches for the road, all while simultaneously conducting her normal, daily job duties. And, on the morning of departure, she double-checks everyone's suitcases and turns out the lights and unplugs the electronics and pulls the blinds and puts blankets on the furniture so the cat doesn't ruin it during her unsupervised time home alone. And then gets into the car and goes. Fun. Carefree. Vacation. Woo-hoo.

I am reminded, naturally, of this post by Chris at Notes From the Trenches. Then again, she has seven children. Which makes my job look pretty easy. Uh. Moving on!

I'm not whining about how sucky my life is. I love my life. I'm just pointing out why, unless the "vacation" is somewhere truly enjoyable and friendly and perhaps even exciting -- and perhaps even then -- the mom might feel significantly more burdened by a family "vacation" than does the dad, who gets to look forward to, well, a vacation. And if the vacation involves suffering, such as via a 10-hour one-way car trip with two small children who don't sleep in the car and who habitually ask "when will we get there?" at about the time you drive past the gas station on the corner 2 miles from your house, not to mention any other sorts of ridiculousness that may be related to the vacation, ahem, well then the mom is not going to be super thrilled about the "vacation."*

So. Are there any dads out there who take care of all the vacation prep? I'd be curious to know. Because right now my belief is that "vacations" will start being vacations at about the time the children go to college.

(*Don't leave any comments about how moms should just be happy anyway and do it for the kids and the sake of their experiences. Obviously, moms DO do it for the sake of the kids and their experiences, every time. If there's one thing you don't have to tell a mom to do, it's to put their happiness and their needs behind that of their children. My point is that there are objective reasons why vacations may not be a barrel of fun if you're the mom, and that it's completely justified to feel that way if you're the mom. And I realize the idea of moms being justified in voicing their displeasure with the inequities of their positions makes some people very upset and nervous, so much so that their main reaction is to just criticize the moms by calling them negative-Nellie complainers and admonishing them that they should really be thankful they're alive and counting their blessings because every day of life is a precious gift and all that. I understand it's difficult for some people to tolerate any sort of expressed dissatisfaction with anything, particularly from moms. But it's still okay for moms to do it.)


Katie said...

Shannon, I totally agree with you on this one.

Mom said...

The veteran mama of numerous such "vacations", I agree with most of what you say, but I still wouldn't have missed those trips for the world, even when you kids were small and whiny and not much fun on the road. And I'll have to admit you all slept pretty well wherever you were as long Mom and Dad were nearby, and we didn't worry too much about keeping you "on schedule". There has to be a little "give and take" when you're away from home! The girls are resilient and will adjust.

Questionable Housekeeping said...

Oh I am so with you one this one. Not even just vacations, but any trip. We often spend weekends three hours away visiting family, which entails, in addition to said prep work, me spending the night in the tiniest of bedrooms, which literally fits only a pack-n-play, a bed, and a dresser, with my 1 1/2-year-old "sleeping" (thrashing around and crying)in the pack-n-play and my 3-year-old daughter with me in the bed kicking me in the head all night, while my husband sleeps peacefully on the futon in the other room. Good times!...Since you said expressing dissatisfaction is OK and all :)

Mom and Kiddo said...

Well, I guess I can't leave any comments, then.


I totally agree. I am all about "staycations" in which Dad takes time off work in order to take kids out of the house to leave mom alone.

Shannon said...

@Mom and Kiddo! HA! Love that idea! (In all honesty, the "staycation" is by far my preferred "vacation" since having babies. I detest traveling with children. DETEST IT. And if I'm not even going somewhere where people are nice to me, then I really detest it.)

Mary S. said...

I don't suppose this will make you feel any better, but my hubby has done most of the planning for our upcoming vacation -- and, our kids are in college! Still, the ones that I did all the prep and planning on were great experiences and so, so worth the hassle. Also, my daughters now believe I am the world's best packer.

Rita said...

In our house, we call a "vacation" something where we go WITHOUT KIDS, anything else is called simply "a trip".

Because we ALL know it ain't no vacation when kids are involved.

I swear to you I have said EVERYTHING you've written to my husband. I've even added a part: *HE* always drives so that *I* have to deal with the MANY (like every 60 seconds) requests of my children from the back seat.

It's maddening.

Rita said...

Have you considered saying "I would be happy to go on your 10 hour trip. I will have my bag packed and the car gassed up on the morning of our departure. YOU do the rest".

And then YOU drive! While wearing HEADPHONES.

Yes! THIS is the answer!

Shannon said...

@Rita: Oh, I do the driving. That is, I do when we go on (much) shorter road trips. We've never driven this far before with kids, and I know I won't be able to drive the whole way, I'd get too tired. So we'll have to share driving duties. But normally, I'm ALL ABOUT being the driver, who does not have to continually pick up dropped objects, dole out snacks, and provide entertainment.

Anonymous said...

The fuller-time caregiver is the one who does all the grunt work of getting ready for trips. If there's a stay-at-home-parent, that's the parent packing the kids' toiletries and remembering the security blanket(s) and bringing books to read and repurposeable toys to play with and snacks. But this could be the father.

I have good gay friends with two kids (4 and 7). And obviously the one doing all the vacation "work" was a man, as was the one "going on a carefree vacation" with his family. I also have friends where the wife is a doctor who earns the money and works exhausting hours and the husband stays home full time to raise their three kids. The husband is the one doing all the planning and packing and "work" involved in the vacations in that family. The wife is sleeping in and reading novels and feasting on a few hard-earned bon bons by the poolside.

I firmly believe it has nothing to do with being male or female. It has to do with who's more of the full-time caregiver.

That said, the fuller-time caregiver does suffer in all the ways you've mentioned and deserves a vacations of his/her own (without the kids). In the future, you say, "I'd love to drive 10 hours to Michigan for a family vacation if, after we get back, you take the kids for a couple days. I'm going to go visit my friend X or the city Y. I will sleep in and dine out and have a nice time doing normal things without any kids in tow. I'll come back refreshed and be a better mother and wife."

I've done 2 versions of this. Husband takes child on vacation without me (thumbs up although I felt compelled to get a lot of stuff done around the house). So I prefer the other option: I go visit a good girlfriend in a nearby city and the two of us have a great time living it up without our kids around.

I only do it once a year, but it's been invaluable to my mental health and my husband's parenting self-esteem and his relationship with our child. I highly recommend it.