I’ll be honest: I’m not a natural parent. After a surprise pregnancy, my partner and I pulled together to give parenting our best shot but, even 22 months in, I still feel like I’m adjusting to this life-change.
Whilst other people seem to relish in the role of motherhood, I often find it tedious, frustrating, constraining and down-right stressful! Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter, and, when she’s on form, I thoroughly enjoy spending time with her. Unfortunately, however, now that she’s a toddler, some weeks those days (or hours) are few and far between. Since she turned 18 months, I have found parenting more and more difficult. Some days she seems to whine all day long and I have no idea what’s bothering her. Yet, on other days, she’s an absolute angel. As well as this, now that she’s mobile, if she’s not trying to shop-lift, she’s trying to run in front of cars or climb up the towel rail. She hates the pushchair; she hates the car seat and sometimes it all gets too much for her and she feels the need to make herself completely rigid, slide out of my arms and bang her head on the floor until everyone is staring. For a control-freak who struggles with anxiety, the ‘terrible twos’ are definitely a challenge.
Taking all of this into consideration, the thought of a holiday with her filled me with absolute dread. Before having my daughter, I used to love going on holiday so it’s not something I want to give up. Last year we went to a family resort in Majorca, but buffet dinners at 6pm and hotel room-imprisonment from 7pm wasn’t really our cup of tea, so this year we opted for an Airbnb in (not so) sunny Devon.
Now that the week has come to an end, I’m taking some time to reflect. It certainly felt like a long week (probably due to being woken up before 6am every day). It has also been a hard one. When we’re at home, my daughter is in childcare three days a week whilst I’m at work and I play netball on two evenings so I get a break. This week, however, has been all day every day with her in a foul mood for half of it and one morning four days in it all felt a little bit overwhelming.
Whilst my partner was having a relaxing start to the day emptying his bowels, I was desperately trying to sort out my daughter’s lunch box and clothes for the day, whilst also trying to research what we could actually do with her all day in torrential rain. In fact, all I seemed to do all week during nap-time was organise what we were going to do, when we were going to do it and get everything ready for each excursion.
After twenty minutes of waiting for him to emerge from the bathroom, I decided that I would ask him to get her stuff ready for the day to which his response was to stare at me blankly and joke: ‘That’s your job’.
I lost my shit.
A week’s worth of emotion poured out.
The problem is, when you’re on holiday you’re supposed to enjoy yourself; to relax and have a break. The reality of holidaying with a toddler, however, is that in many ways, it’s more difficult than being at home. Far from being enjoyable, there have been days this week with this teething monster when, before it was even 8am, I’d said ‘FML’ to myself 3465 times. As a parent, you feel like you should really treasure those precious moments with your child that make it all worth it, because they are amazing, but the truth is that sometimes those moments are only 0.001% of the day. Rather than shy away from it, I’ve learnt this week that sometimes you just have to acknowledge that ‘this is shit’ and not feel guilty about it. Bottling it all up and trying to create the illusion of the ‘perfect family holiday’ just doesn’t work. Once I relaxed, we all started enjoying ourselves much more.
This week certainly felt like an emotional rollercoaster of incredible highs and lows in which we undoubtedly created memories that we will cherish forever. It has also been a learning curve in which we try to navigate our way through holidaying as parents, whilst reluctantly letting go of the memories of holidays past. Thankfully my daughter cheered up halfway through the week and we had a lovely time. Upon reflection, I certainly enjoyed this year’s holiday much more than last, so hopefully next year I can increase my enjoyment by another percentile. In the meantime, here are my top tips for holidaying with a toddler.
On the first day of our holiday we arrived at the beach just as the heavens opened. We didn’t even have my daughter’s raincoat, let alone suitable footwear and a bucket and spade. Suffice to say she was livid the whole time. We lasted about 15 minutes before trudging back up to the car park passing numerous happy families carrying everything but the kitchen sink. Cue a quick dash to Tesco to get beach-ready! From that day on, we made sure that we chucked everything into the car with us just in case: different coat options, shoe options, transport options (pushchair and reins), toy options… We basically covered all bases in preparation for a meltdown.
When you’re going to be stuck in from 7pm every evening, you’re going to need some entertainment. Our Airbnb listed a smart TV complete with ‘Netflix’ as part of its special features and that clinched it for us. We even saved the last few episodes of ‘Stranger Things’ for the occasion! Not only that, but Duggee and Peppa on repeat certainly helped us get out of the door in the mornings –CBeebies just doesn’t cut it.
It never ceases to amaze me how much my daughter can consume. She basically eats constantly all day long (like mother like daughter). Therefore, whenever we went out, we always made sure we had a lunchbox jam-packed with snacks to occupy her. Plying her with food meant that we even managed to enjoy a couple of brunches!
Embrace your inner child
Without a doubt, the happiest my daughter was all week was the day we went to Totnes in torrential rain. After getting bored of going around shops in her pushchair, she demanded to walk, so we strapped on her reins and let her tear around the outdoor market! Whilst everyone was huddled under shelters along the perimeter, she was in her absolute element squealing her head off jumping in puddles! We were all soaked anyway, so in the end we decided to join her and it was actually a lot of fun. Peppa’s onto something! As well as this, having a toddler with us meant that we were first in line to pet the micro-pigs at the farm and go on the miniature railway.
Eat in like a pro
Faced with the prospect of dining in every evening, we decided that we would make sure we were eating like we were in a restaurant. Each evening we took turns to cook a recipe that we hadn’t tried before and washed the meal down with a bottle of wine! We also ensured that we picked up a fancy dessert everyday so it felt like a proper treat during ‘Stranger Things’.
Take turns to have a break
Let’s face it, entertaining a toddler 24/7 is draining and sometimes you need to get out of the house, have some time to yourself and recover. Most nap-times my partner spent the first hour at Tesco as he was the only one with a car, so I made sure that I went out for a couple of jogs around the local park when he got back to clear my head and avoid getting cabin fever.
Break it up a bit
When we first decided on a staycation, we considered inviting relatives (purely for babysitting purposes) but, as no one was free, we decided to book accommodation near to where one of our friends had moved so that we could see her and break the week up a bit. As she was a local, she was able to give us the lowdown on the best places to go and we spent a delightful morning on the beach with her and her daughter. In addition to this, she invited us around to hers for dinner and a sleepover one night so we had a little break from Netflix! As everyone flocks to the South West during the summer, it turned out that one of my uni mates would also be crossing paths with us so one afternoon I ditched my partner and daughter and went for a posh lunch in a fancy fish restaurant with her and had a lovely catch-up complete with a glass of wine.
Relax the routine
It never ceases to enrage me that most toddler establishments open at 10am. Now, if I’m lucky enough that my daughter wakes up at 7am, that’s still three hours of entertaining her prior to that. With the absence of blackout curtains, her wake up times were more like 5.30am on holiday so by 10am most mornings I was going out of my mind! One place we visited had the audacity to have a ‘staff meeting’ at 10am (their opening time) when they had a queue of irate toddlers (and parents) waiting outside! My daughter normally naps at 12pm so, by the time we got in there, we were £30 down with just an hour until we had to rush off. In order to do anything, we basically had to make the decision to put her down for her nap an hour later and I was on ‘keeping her awake’ duty in the car. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a ‘routine-queen’, but, by the end of the week, we’d relaxed the rules so much that we even attempted going out for dinner when we’d normally be winding her down to sleep! She was absolutely fine and loved the attention (not to mention the fish and chips) and the restaurant were very accommodating when we phoned beforehand to make our orders and insist that they didn’t keep us waiting! She was still in bed by 7.30pm and we had plenty of time left for dessert and ‘Netflix’.
Have a sense of humour
Like I said, the week was hard work but in the end we just had to roll with the highs and lows and laugh about it. Yes, we’ve gone from luxury holidays in the French Riviera to getting excited about watching ‘Stranger Things’ in Devon but seeing my daughter’s face on the ‘choo choo’ and sitting out on the terrace during naptime in our raincoats drinking wine are just as imprinted on my memory as eating moules frites in St Tropez. I think sometimes you have to embrace the negative emotions to really feel the positive ones. As soon as I had a good cry and admitted that I had found the week difficult, I started to feel intense moments of awe, gratitude and joy. Also, because we were ‘on holiday’, we felt completely justified in having a glass (or two) of wine with lunch which certainly helped with seeing the funny side of things!
Book a toddler-free break to get over it!
Now, I’m not going to lie, three days into teething-hell, we started looking for cheap flights in order to compensate for this holiday! Yes, family holidays are great, but it’s still nice to go away without the kids once in a while. We’ve managed to wangle three nights of babysitting later in the year so we’re off to sunny Corfu for some much-needed couple time. I’m sure we’ll still spend the whole time talking about our daughter, but at least we’ll have a break from Netflix!