I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as a vacation for a mom. If you are taking a vacation with kids in tow then it will always be a trip. A vacation entails vacating from the demands of your everyday life. It implies you will be taking a sabbatical for relaxation and refreshment.
A trip, however, consists of planning, packing, scheduling, etc. . . . on top of all your usual responsibilities. When taking a
vacation trip with children, you also have to factor in all of their daily needs as well as anticipate every need that might arise while outside their normal routines and environment.
The added responsibilities of a family
vacation trip usually tend to fall entirely on the family matriarch. We do this to ourselves, really, by setting the expectation we can be the mom who seamlessly does everything for everyone in the family on top of taking care of ourselves. As a single mother, I don’t have a choice in delegating some of this responsibility. I do, however, have a choice to not ruin my “vacation” by worrying about entertaining my kids every moment of the journey or packing more than they can carry themselves.
This summer I embarked on a three-week excursion with my two young girls to the east coast to visit friends and family as we traveled to Florida and up the coast of Maryland. I was widowed in February 2020 and have strived to make life for my children as normal as possible as I navigate through grief and single parenthood. This means spending our summer vacation creating new memories as a family of three — a family without a father.
I constantly think about how things should be and what a family vacation would be like with a partner, but I’m not sure a husband would make traveling that much easier because, as women, we tend to take on the role of solo activities director for our families, whether we’re a single mom or not. Again, we put this expectation upon ourselves and society enables this.
On the final leg of our journey, my daughters and I were in line to board our final flight back to DFW. I was struggling to control my two year old from running off and my five year old from digging in my backpack for a snack while I fumbled to pull up our boarding passes on my phone. I managed to scan our three passes all while balancing my restless children and our luggage. Tucking my phone away, the gate attendant very matter of factly prompted, “Still need one more.”
I paused confused, and then noticed that the passenger in line behind us was a man who looked around my age, although it’s hard to tell behind a mask. When I realized what she meant by “needing one more,” I answered, “Oh. We’re not together.” After an awkward beat we all laughed it off with the gate attendant apologizing as we boarded the plane.
What hit me most about this encounter wasn’t the pain of my husband’s absence or awkwardness of a stranger making the assumption that my family once again looked “complete” with a man standing by us. It was the fact I hadn’t once noticed this person before he was mistakenly lumped into our family. We had not engaged in small talk in line or interacted in any way whatsoever, not even so much as a quick look of shared understanding you might exchange with another parent who has been through your current walk.
No, this was a man who, as far as I could tell, was at risk of walking into a wall if he didn’t manage to look up from his cell phone in time. No judgement whatsoever. This was a man traveling alone and was perfectly entitled to get absorbed in a screen. What I did judge was the fact that a stranger assumed that this man was my husband (and presumably the father of the two small children I was doing my best to wrangle) and he wasn’t helping me one bit.
Shout out to the men who do share the responsibilities of traveling with kids and especially those fathers who take on a family vacation as a single parent. The image of a mom managing it all while dad stands back picking out what podcast he’s going to tune out with should not be the norm.
I know each stage of motherhood will always hold its unique challenges, but I think we should all have grace on ourselves as we head into the final days of summer break. Instead of trying to schedule every remaining moment before school starts again, I hope we can all try to relax and vacate the expectations of moms taking care of everything for everyone.
Summer break is a precious time to enjoy our children while they grow and learn to navigate personal responsibility. This includes the practice of slowing down and living in the moment. I hope we, especially single moms, can do our children the favor of setting a good example by avoiding the urge to plan and assist in everything for them, so that all family members can enjoy the vacation.
Join Fort Worth Moms Neighbor Group Tarrant County Single Moms for community, resources, and support.
Listen to the Momfessions Podcast episode, A Single Mom’s Guide to Vacation Planning.