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Can We Finally Admit That Family Vacations Benefit Everyone *Except* Mom?

by Steph Montgomery

You've probably seen a meme or two about how moms never get a break. We work 24 hours a day, seven days a week — at home and at our jobs — to keep our families afloat. We work so hard, in fact, that a solo trip to Target feels like a stay at a five-star resort. My job, as a mother, is never over, and it's never more apparent than when I take my family on vacation. From the moment I load up the car or head to the airport, it feels like family vacations benefit everyone... except mom. While my family members are having the time of their lives I'm doing the dirty work to facilitate their joy and, frankly, I'm tired of it. It's time we take family vacations back. It's time they start benefitting everyone.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I decided that instead of buying our kids more stuff they didn’t need, or throwing elaborate birthday parties, we’d spend our money on experiences. It sounded like such a great idea, in theory. We planned on taking several family trips together, assuming every little getaway was going to be so much fun. And it was, for the kids and my husband. For me, however, those family vacations were just exhausting.

I've started to wonder how other moms feel about family vacations, because, honestly, I hate them. I was really looking forward to bonding with my kids on some well-planned excursion that gave us all a break from the humdrum of "normal" life. Instead, I was hit with the harsh realization that every movie, commercial, and website I've seen that highlights the "joys" of family vacations are straight-up lying. It's never as good as it seems, it's rarely worth the money, and, in the end, I'm in need of a vacation from my vacation.

Don't misunderstand, because I want to be the mom who takes her kids on amazing adventures. I want to give them opportunities to experience the world first-hand; to learn and grow through unique experiences. I really do. Some of my best childhood memories are due to quintessential vacations our family took to the beach, camping, or to visit family members. I was able to learn about history, geography, nature, and different cultures thanks to those trips. I want that for my kids, and for us as a family.

How much emotional labor did these moms invest in family trips, so that the rest of us can wax nostalgic about them when we're older? I have a feeling I already know the answer, and it's definitely not making me feel any better.

I'm not alone in feeling nostalgic about family vacations, either. As reported by, a Harris poll of 2,500 adults found that 62 percent had awesome memories of family trips. What's more, over half of the 1,200 kids they polled thought that "vacations bring their family closer together." Which leaves me wondering how much time, effort, and energy mothers, as a whole, have put into facilitating these bonding moments. How many moms were silently working behind the scenes to give their kids these memories? How much emotional labor did these moms invest in family trips, so that the rest of us can wax nostalgic about them when we're older? I have a feeling I already know the answer, and it's definitely not making me feel any better.

Nothing has made me regret my life choices more than being trapped alone with five kids in a hotel room. Nothing. Before I had kids, I loved staying at hotels. They were magical places where I could drink wine and watch HGTV all day in bed. As a mom, I've come to realize hotel rooms are basically a tiny version of home, with thin walls, crappy WiFi, and no child-proofing. Oh, and they're usually expensive.

The point of a vacation is to relax, right? Because, honestly, I'm forgetting the reason why I put myself in these situations.

Every hotel room I've stayed in has been composed of pretty much everything the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends you remove from your home when your baby starts crawling. From drapes with cords and miniature fridges full of glass, to toilets without lids that can shut and uncovered outlets, my toddler spends each vacation trying to find ways to hurt himself. I have to hover around him like a helicopter mom, unable to relax for a single second. The point of a vacation is to relax, right? Because, honestly, I'm forgetting the reason why I put myself in these situations.

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

It's nearly impossible to keep anyone on their normal routine on vacation, too. My kids need a routine or they turn into destructive creatures, capable of trashing a hotel room in less time than it takes me to use the bathroom. I feel so guilty that I'm not enjoying myself or smiling along with my family or being as carefree as I was pre-babies, but if I don't remain vigilant a harmless outing can, and probably will, turn dangerous. Is it fun? No. Is my emotional labor and effort and energy necessary? You bet. I mean, if I'm not going to do it, who will?

Camping with kids seems kind of fun, until the novelty wears off, it's too damp or hot to be comfortable, and you realize that you are basically paying to have mosquitoes bite you and sleep on the ground.

I wonder if I'm alone in these feelings. Do other moms somehow find ways to beat the stress, and actually enjoy family vacations? Or, are we all living this damn lie where we post amazing photos of our vacations on Instagram or Facebook, but leave out the part about hiding in the bathroom with a bottle of wine and our phone? Or how much concealer we have to bake onto our faces to make it appear as though we got any sleep?

I know it will be better when my kids are older, and we can create amazing memories together that I actually feel part of instead of responsible for.

As a manager, I constantly told my staff to take vacations. Every seminar said vacation was good for your employees and for your business. In fact, CNN Travel reported that people who take vacations are less likely to have heart attacks and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. After going on quite a few family vacations, though, I'm starting to think that their studies didn't include moms, because I am pretty sure they make my anxiety way worse.

Courtesy of Steph Montgomery

So, what can we do about it? Well, we can plan ahead and involve our partners, so that if we are generally the parent who does it all we can actually get a break on vacation while they take a turn. Maybe that means mom gets a massage instead of taking the kids to see Mickey Mouse, or maybe it looks like our partners finding more ways for us to get breaks throughout the year, and not just when we are officially "on vacation." It definitely means making family-friendly vacation spots more affordable, and recognizing a mom's emotional labor so it can be equally divided among the adults in the vacation room. We can also, collectively, stop judging women who take solo-vacations without their children, because you don't have to be staring at your child every hour of every day to be a good parent.

Mom life is hard. Most of us do way more on a typical day before 9:00 a.m. than our child-free selves did, well, ever. So, when you plan a vacation thinking it will include relaxation and drinks with umbrellas and then get there and realize that you still have to do everything you do at home, your “vacation” starts to feel more like work. That feeling is valid, and it's one we should all work to eradicate so the moms in our lives can get the rest they deserve. Finally.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.