Life is busy — for adults and kids. Quality time as a family is often something that has to be scheduled in between work and school and meetings and health checks, which makes family vacations the ideal opportunity to leave all that at home and really reconnect.
So I understand the sentiment behind the blog post that’s stirring up the online parenting community right now, accusing parents who use hotel kids’ clubs during family vacations as “dumping” their offspring. Why would parents go away with their kids and not want to spend time with them?
But as a mom who has benefitted from hotel kids’ clubs herself, I need to set a few things straight. The idea isn’t to “dump” kids and not spend any time with them whatsoever. Instead, isn’t it possible that parents may be looking for a way to achieve balance on vacation and meet the needs of all family members?
One of the best vacations we ever took as a family was when my daughters were 8 and 5 years old. At the time, I was a stay-at-home mom and my husband worked long hours. We were both happy with our roles — but also exhausted. Neither of our extended families was able to assist us with child care, and we chose not to employ a nanny or any type of help. Occasionally, we hired a high school sitter so we could go to dinner at a restaurant, but otherwise, we didn’t go out much as a couple.
For our trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, we specifically chose a hotel with a very highly-rated kids’ club. The first day, both daughters were slightly reluctant to go to the club, but we asked them to give it a try for a few hours. When we returned later that morning, they were begging us to let them go back for the afternoon session.
This kids’ club was incredible. It had several different age groups and wide range of activities, from scavenger hunts to cooking classes to a Harry Potternight. Both of my girls had an amazing time. They loved the counselors, who were all well-trained and extremely attentive to all the children. My daughters also liked the kids they met at club and chose to play with these children when they saw them at the beach or pool when club was not in session.
I completely agree that family vacations are about spending time with your family. Our daughters did not stay at the club all day and night. Instead, they went for several hours during the day and a few of the evening programs. But we did not “dump” them. They went willingly and happily. After trying it the first day, they asked to go because they had so much fun. If they weren’t having a good time, we would never have forced them to attend.
During the hours they went to kids’ club, my husband and I each enjoyed some alone time and also had time as a couple. A chance to work out, read a book, go for a walk together on the beach — these were luxuries that we didn’t have at home. I did not have a grandma that could watch my child at home and kids’ club was providing high-quality child care.
When we picked up our daughters from the club, they were exuberant and excited to tell us about everything they did. Their experience gave us a great balance of vacation time: alone time, couple time, family time and time for our daughters to socialize with their peers. The girls woke up at 7 a.m. and didn’t go to bed until after 9 p.m. Even if they spent five hours in the camp program, that left nine hours for us to spend together as a family — plenty of time for us to go for a swim, discuss cloud formations and share meals together.
Not all kids’ clubs are created equal. If you plan to send your children to the kids’ club, I recommend doing some research in advance. Travel websites and friends who have traveled with their kids can be useful resources for information about club programs, staffing, etc. We did once have a bad experience at a kids’ camp in Florida that was recommended. It wasn’t unsafe, but it my kids didn’t enjoy it. So we didn’t send them back after their first visit.
The few hours my husband and I spent away from our kids on vacation benefited all of us. I felt recharged, and that feeling continued beyond the vacation when we got back home. Sending my children to the kids’ club doesn’t make us lazy parents. In fact, taking a little time for ourselves made us more engaged, more present and ultimately better parents.