Parenting for the Perplexed: Traveling with young kids, or without them

Rachel Biale, MSW, is a Berkeley-based parenting consultant who has been working with parents of very young children for more than 25 years. Send questions through her Facebook page: Parenting Counseling by Rachel Biale or via [email protected].

I am looking forward to bringing my 3-month-old baby back to my parents’ home to meet our big family. But I am worried about every detail, from flying to sleeping when we get there, plus the onslaught of unsolicited advice from everyone. What do you recommend? A. in Oakland

Dear A.: Summer is travel time for many families, so hopefully some of you are reading this before you depart. The younger the infant the smaller their orbit: All your baby really needs is your and your partner’s body and attention, readily available. If you fly, have the baby sucking vigorously (breast, bottle, pacifier or your pinky) during takeoff and landing. It helps relieve the pressure in the inner ear. But, as almost everyone has experienced, it doesn’t always work. Some babies just wail. Prepare your most charming smile and innocent shoulder shrugging.

Jetlag can be a real challenge. Assume a minimum of one day per hour of time difference for adjustment. When my kids were little and we flew all the way to Israel, it was brutal. I had never imagined visiting the cows at 2 a.m.

As a baby gets older, she depends on a larger array of objects to make her comfortable in her environment, so bring along a favorite musical mobile or some other portable item from her crib. If you’ll be shlepping a port-a-crib with you, might as well get your baby adjusted to sleeping in it at home for a week before your trip. Hopefully it’ll make it easier on the other end.

When visiting with young children, I recommend arranging for them to sleep in the room with you. If you expect howling at bedtime and/or the middle of the night, give the grandparents (or other hosts) fair warning. Rules I may advocate about not immediately picking up your baby when he fusses at home can be abrogated when traveling. Just go with the “path of least resistance” and assume you’ll need “corrective training” for a week when you’re back home.

The best response to unsolicited advice is a charming smile and “Thank you. I’ll think about it,” or “We might try that once we get home.” Do think about it! And remind yourself of the good intentions behind the unwelcome tips.

Planning a trip without your child? I have a few tips for you as well. I do recommend — enthusiastically —overnights away from your child/ren every few months, as long as you have familiar sitters (grandparents, regular babysitter, preschool teacher) to stay with your child. That said, bear in mind this rough guideline: one night away for every year of age.

For kids over 3 and trips over two or three days: Keep everything else in your child’s routine unchanged, as much as possible. Make a box with a compartment for each day you’ll be gone (you can fasten shoeboxes together), putting a T-shirt, photo of you, small toy and short letter in each one. Your child should start each day with a new T-shirt and get the “treasures” of the day. This will show him very concretely when you’ll be back.

Buy postcards your child would like (animals, trains) before you depart and write on each one. Have your babysitter/parents put one (with a used stamp) in the mailbox each day. It’s OK to pretend it came from you for kids up to age 5. Past that you probably can’t pull off this little deception. Make a short video of you and your child snuggling, reading a favorite story. Your child can watch it when she misses you the most. Don’t overdo the presents you bring back – it will confuse your child and distract from the key task at hand, reconnecting emotionally. Be prepared that when you come back, you’ll get the silent treatment or angry tantrums. These are to show you what it felt like to be left. Be patient and keep hugging. It will pass.

Finally, one more rule while you are away: no more than 30 minutes twice daily for talking about your kid/s. The rest of the time is for you.

However and wherever you go, nesiah tovah (have a good trip)!

Rachel Biale
Rachel Biale

Rachel Biale, an Israeli native, is a Bay Area Jewish community professional and author.