Vacationing Without Young Kids: How Long is Too Long?

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Here is one of those dilemmas, in which I completely agree with the advice of Carolyn Hax, but could see it being such an explosive topic that she got skewered for it.

A father -- very entitled IMHO -- wrote to her that he and his wife went on a two-week trip to Europe. They left their 21-month-old with his mother-in-law, who after a few days of caring for the child, "burnt out" -- his words -- then left the child with her other daughter. That daughter had a business trip and then left the child with an ex-girlfriend who he said was "not connected to our family in any meaningful way."

The father is livid that they weren't called, while his wife has told him to drop it. Carolyn sided with the wife saying that this young child was too young to be left so long by his parents. Here was Carolyn's response and that of those who agreed and disagreed with her:

Carolyn Hax: In the kids shoes, would I trust my parents after this?

You left a too young kid for too long for too nonessential a reason. Parents do need to get away, but not that ambitiously. So, yes, your mom made a serious error in not calling you right away when she started to feel overwhelmed. Your sister made a serious error in not calling you when your mom handed your son over and when she passed him along again. Who knows what your sister's ex was thinking--"poor kid," probably, but how hard would it have been for her to say to your sister, "You need to call the parents, NOW"?

If you and your wife had deployed or been in the hospital or something else, then I'd have a completely different answer. But you took two weeks off from being parents, and you got what you got, and I think it's time to listen to your wife and drop it. If you were planning to give your mom two weeks in Europe to thank her for caring for your boy, then it is okay for you to withdraw that offer.

Seriously. Carolyn also asked the father why he didn't call while he was in Europe. Who. is. this. guy?

Still, people came to his rescue and called Carolyn "judgmental." I don't like judgy people either, but in this case, I really felt for the kid. The most my husband and I were away from the kids were five days and we called every single day. I missed them desperately -- and that was with my mother-in-law's assurances that they were fine. Read on:

Washington, DC: Regarding the parents who went to Europe - I think the LW has a fair point about finding the MIL and SIL untrustworthy. The MIL made a commitment and did not honor it.

Carolyn Hax: I did too. I said they made a ... "serious error."

I knew I'd be criticized for this answer, because I've disagreed vehemently before with someone over a similar issue.

When you ask an above-and-beyond favor of someone in a situation when you have other options, I believe you sacrifice your right to take complete umbrage if that favor is executed poorly.

That it was executed poorly (here and in that old argument I had) is not open for debate here--all the caregivers really screwed up.

I just don't think the person who asked the favor has the right to go on a you-done-me-wrong tear. I believe that's the hazard of asking favors when you have other options; you sacrifice your right to be angry about how well (or poorly) the favor was done.

My old argument was about something very different, but I think it's actually useful because it takes the emotional of child-care out of it. It was about getting repair work done by a buddy who had a shop, instead of paying someone full price for a straight business transaction. When the work wasn't done correctly, my argument was that it wasn't okay to go back to the buddy to complain about the poor workmanship. That option went out the window when you chose to save a few bucks by asking a friend.

Another friend involved in the transaction completely disagreed with me, and said the responsibility for the work is entirely on the other person upon agreeing to do the favor.

Back to the kid. Why didn't the parents call?


"not connected to our family in any meaningful way": Looks like she is, if she was willing to do that big a favor for your family. Time to graciously thank this woman, send her a LARGE bouquet of flowers, and humbly ask if she will teach you to be as thoughtful of others as she is, starting with being as thoughtful of YOUR OWN CHILD as she was.

Carolyn Hax: Ah, there's that, too. Thanks.


Too young to leave?!: Carolyn,

We're about to go on a vacation for 1 week, and leave our 20 month old son in my mom's care. Do you really think that's too young to leave? Why?

Carolyn Hax: "Parents do need to get away, but not that ambitiously."


Re: 2-week trip: Carolyn Hax: "In the kids shoes, would I trust my parents after this? You left a too young kid for too long for too nonessential a reason."

Judgmental much???

Carolyn Hax: Completely. And had he given his own actions even a passing glance, it would have been a completely different answer.

I also want to point out that in the original letter, the child was left for two weeks -- not one. Oh, but there's more:

Nashville TN: Are you saying a one week vacation away from a small child is too much?

Carolyn Hax: No, that's not what I was saying. I said two weeks was too long for this age child for that type of trip. I really was answering specifically for the facts of that question, and I don't think anything extrapolated from that and applied to a different situation can be said to accurately represent my views.

I'm answering this because there are a lot of these in my queue--how about X years old, Y weeks, whatever--and all I can say is that the answer changes when you change the facts.


Too young to leave?: Sidestepping the issue of how long is OK to be away or how far to go...when planning to be away from children, the parents should always 1) plan for back-up in case something happens to the assigned substitute care giver. (Friends of mine left their son with his mother, who was in a car crash. This can happen to anyone.) 2) expect to call DAILY to check on on both child and the caregiver, and 3) purchase trip insurance in advance so that, in an emergency, you can get home fast.

Also, the first-line substitute could probably use respite if they are responsible for more than a couple of days. Build that into the plan...arrange a sitter so they get few hours off. This will help prevent them from getting burned out while you are traveling.

Carolyn Hax: I like all of these, thanks--very useful. The "also" is just as important as the others, though, and not as a "could probably." For one, parents can't expect a caregiver to put in more time than they do themselves, and it's hard to imagine parents in a situation when they're "on" for X days straight. Even if it's one parent handing the child to the other parent, there are little breaks here and there. A solo caregiver needs every one of those breaks a parent gets, and then some, because it's not their child(ren) they're caring for.

Even when parents go away for as few as two nights, it's good for the kids for you to arrange a sitter for the sitter, if it's someone doing solo duty.

I completely agree with the advice at the end of this piece. Thanks to MIL's generosity -- and yes, it is a huge favor -- DH and I have gotten away for little trips here and there. The farthest and most we were away was five days to St. Maarten island. And even with my MIL's reassurances to not worry about the kids, we still made sure that our nanny helped her, that she had downtime, that she had all emergency phone numbers including the kids' pediatrician and our closest friends, that we called everyday, and that we brought lots of presents for her and the kids as it was a long time to be away from them.

This father sounds way entitled IMHO. Yes, grandma and aunt exercised a huge error in judgement and they should have been upfront about not being able to handle a 21-month-old at this point in their lives. But I feel that these parents should have known this or taken a much closer and shorter trip.

What do you all think?