Holiday! Vacationing With an Only Child

7 years ago

We're standing in line to check bags at the San Diego airport, surrounded by large families hoisting enough luggage to sustain the Northwest Passage. And once again, I am thankful we are a party of three.

When we first decided to keep our family this size, we used to wonder if we'd have to borrow a kid on vacation.

Midway 8

We don't.

But there are pros and cons to traveling light. If you've ever wondered what it's like to have one child, here's a glimpse.

Pro: Nothing's Set in Stone

We can change direction on the fly, decide where to eat in ten seconds and negotiate kid vs. adult time with a minimum of fuss. You want the zoo? Fine, I want the sailboat ride. Everything is negotiated directly with the person in play, so your parenting style and rules can change according to the situation, as there's no need to keep things fair between different kids of different ages and maturity levels.

Con: You Are the Playmate

You can never tell your kid to go play with her sister. You are that child's companion, like it or not. That can be a big con when you're ready to relax in the hot tub with a glass of wine after a long day at Sea World and your daughter wants to swim in 65 degree weather.

Pro: You'll Probably Travel More Often Because It's Cheaper and Easier

If we'd taken the vacation we just took with another child, it would've cost at least an additional $800. Since we try to pay vacations off immediately or use cash, we would most likely not be able to save up to go somewhere every eighteen months or so. Or we'd be vacationing in an RV or in Branson, and I'd have to stick a fork in my eye.

Con: Your Kid Will Get Bored and Lonely If There Aren't Enough Kid Activities

Just because you *can* go to a restaurant with tablecloths every night doesn't mean you should. Only children do act a bit like little adults, but you have to remind yourself they're not -- just like everything else, you have to flip back and forth between adult stuff and kid stuff. I recommend carrying around at least one puzzle book and one sticker book at all times. They come in tiny sizes and can fit into any purse. And you have to engage -- there is no ignoring the only child while you're waiting for your table. It's not fair.

Pro: You Will Literally Travel Lighter

Without so much stuff to carry and keep track of, packing and unpacking go faster. You can get on and off a bus without going back and forth to the curb ten times and you don't need to rent a minivan just to get to your hotel.

Pro: You Have Only One Kid's Needs to Schedule Around

Either she takes naps or she doesn't. Either she can eat dinner at 8 p.m. or she can't. Either she needs a stroller or she doesn't. Once you pass a high-maintenance stage, you need not revisit it.


In our case, family size was very planned and tailored to our personalities. If we'd accidentally had more kids, we would've welcomed them with love and gotten comfortable with the Ozarks. I'm not arguing people who have more kids are not having any fun or suffer in lives of toil -- I'm writing this for the parents out there who are wrestling with the desire to stop at one and worry their child will grow up lonely and unhappy.

We made our decision to stop at one when my six-year-old daughter was two, and we made it permanent when she was four. Everything is different in our lives from all of our two- and three-kid family friends. We have very few in-town friends with only children and only three other parties of three between both of our large extended families. But I can tell you that the stereotype of the lonely only child is not self-fulfilling -- it doesn't have to be that way. You just need a slightly different breed of parent to make it work.

If you have an only child, people will tell you over and over that your child will suffer a lonely and boring existence, most likely to emerge on the other side of parenthood a shriveled, spoiled, friendless shell of the robust human she could've been (I'm only slightly exaggerating -- people can be very mean when they think you' haven't made up your mind yet). 

I have friends who were only children and hated it and friends who were only children and loved it. I follow this motto: We are a party of three. We do things together. We all get our turn to do what we want to do. No one tail wags the dog.

If you're considering stopping at one because you think it'll make you a better parent, stop. It's fine. And I promise, you can still go on vacation.

This post originally appeared on Surrender, Dorothy.

Rita Arens authors Surrender Dorothy and is the editor of Sleep is for the Weak. She is BlogHer's assignment and syndication editor.

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