My parents live in Connecticut, about two hours away. We often take a family road trip to visit for the weekend, especially in the summer, because they have a pool — and also because my six-year-old prefers Grandma to me.
My wife and I dread those trips. Not as much as we dreaded them when we lived ten hours away, but at least back then we only had the one kid to worry about. Sure, two hours is a lot shorter than ten, but that eight-hour difference is more than made up for by the nightmare that is a screaming baby in the backseat.
We had a family road trip or three over the long Thanksgiving weekend. And, thanks to the approach Mom and Buried and I take, we survived them all. You can too!
I know what you’re thinking — two hours is hardly a road trip, at least not for adults. But when you have kids, anything more than a 15-minute round-trip to CVS qualifies as a road trip, purely based on your requisitions. Because there’s no way you’re going anywhere without a collection of snacks, toys, games, water, juice boxes, books, more snacks because kids never want the first five options, headphones, and crayons because you gave up on your car staying clean around his second birthday.
Road trips, like every single other aspect of life once you decide yours won’t be complete without children, are huge hassles. But there is a way to stop dreading the family road trip: fly instead!
Just kidding. When you fly, not only are you consumed with stress and anxiety, but you also have to worry about all the other passengers who actively despise your family because you dared to bring children along.
When I was a kid, I loved road trips. And I’m pretty sure my kids (at least the one who is cognizant) do too. As a parent, it’s different, obviously. But they don’t have to be a nightmare, because technology.
Even more essential than that? No rules.
Kids don’t always realize that road trips are a means to an end. They think the road trip is the actual trip. I remember when I was a kid, as soon as we hit the highway I’d kick my sneakers off. As far as I was concerned, once we were out of my neighborhood, I was on vacation! As a parent, the best way to make your next road trip bearable is to indulge that feeling — especially if you want to keep your sanity. When you’re in the car for an extended period of time, your normal tricks (time outs, “go to your room,” wine) aren’t available.
Instead, you just need to let go.
Normally limit screen time? Out the window. We let our Detective Munch have Pixar marathons, complete with his own headphones (I don’t need to hear “Yellow Submarine” – his go-to road trip movie – 500 times in one afternoon).
Normally ration snacks? Forget about it. When we set off on a road trip, we keep a sack of Goldfish, juice boxes, and fruit snacks in the backseat, so that whomever is riding shotgun doesn’t need to provide wait service. We make sure the kid doesn’t blow up like Violet Beauregard, but other than that? Go to town, Junior — a full mouth is a closed mouth!
Normally don’t like when your kids fight? Give ‘em boxing gloves and ring the bell.
(Okay, maybe not that last one.)
The point is: Driving a car full of your family on a busy highway for an extended period of time is already stressful AF. Give yourself, and your kids, a break.
Your typical discipline and hands-on perfect parenting won’t all disappear just because you let the kids off the leash for a bit in the backseat. Trust me, that ride will be a lot more relaxing if every time they ask a question, you can say “Yes!” instead of “No!” (So long as the question isn’t “Can I throw [something] out the window?”)
A permissive “yes” is usually greeted with a smile and some silence. A stern “no” parachutes both parent and child down into an endless sadness spiral of screams, from which there is no escape. Especially when you’re bombing down the highway and there is literally no escape. No one needs that, particularly not the car’s driver.
Just say yes — it’s better for everybody.
Stop dreading the family road trip by making it a fun part of your vacation. Ease up on the rules and you’ll have a better chance of exiting the car unscathed.
A slightly modified version of this post originally appeared on Scary Mommy.