The Introverted Parent on Vacation (with Four Kids)

I’m writing this in Amsterdam, surrounded by my sleeping family. We’re in a nice little apartment in a lovely part of the city. We arrived yesterday with severe jetlag but mostly kept our kids awake until close to bedtime. Today we dug right in, visiting the Anne Frank House, the canals, and (unintentionally) the Red Light District. Eyes forward, kids. Keep your eyes off the women in their underwear.

In a couple of days, we’ll travel to Paris. After that, a safari in Africa.

This is the trip of a lifetime. I’m living most people’s dream vacation. I know how lucky I am. But I also know that by this time next week—maybe sooner—I’ll be longing for the daily routine of home. For some downtime. Vacations with children are not really vacations for parents. And for introverts like me, they can be incredibly draining.

But we’ve made travel a priority while realizing its challenges for someone like me. Six people in a one-bedroom hotel room is exhausting for an introvert. There’s no place to go. There’s no time to myself. How do I stay sane?

It starts with accepting who I am, and what I need, and relying on my spouse to help me get through it. Here are a few examples of what that looks like.

We establish new routines. Back home, I could send the kids outside to play when I needed some alone time. Not here. (“Go play in the Amsterdam street, kids. Watch out for bikes!”) Instead, we will try to establish a set bedtime for our four children and be sticklers about it. They can read quietly in bed—but not talk.

We communicate and co-parent. My husband and I work hard to cover for each other. I hide my stress pretty well, so he’s not always great at realizing when I’m frazzled. But I’m perfectly fine with asking him for help. The last time we were at DisneyWorld, we’d been in the parks for five straight days, and I was going slightly insane inside. I couldn’t take one more day. Mark has a higher amusement park tolerance, so I asked him to take the kids by himself. I sat in the lobby and worked. I enjoyed the quiet, while Mark got one more day in the park without having to watch me break down in line at Space Mountain. It was a win-win.

We aren’t afraid to say noMy kids don’t always get their way. They’re used to us not doing every single thing together as a family. When the kids are playing at the hotel pool, it takes only one of us to keep an eye on them. The other can be relaxing back in our room. Over the years, we’ve tried to help them understand that taking alone time as a parent doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy doing things with our kids; it just means we need time to breathe. And we’re teaching our kids to establish their own boundaries as well.

We give ourselves grace. Parenting comes with a lot of guilt anyway. When vacationing, as parents we might feel that guilt pulls a double shift. When that happens, I find myself giving into the “shoulds” on an hourly basis. We should be experiencing every inch of this new city. I should be savoring this time with my kids. I shouldn’t be so selfish in my desire to stroll through Paris alone. But rushing from place to place in the name of family memories is exhausting. If I’m worn out, I’m more likely to be a snippy and unkind mom than a generous and fun one. In the long run, I’d rather my kids remember the time mom missed out on a park in Paris than the time mom had a tearful meltdown in Paris. So I’m learning to be kind to myself, to recognize my limits, and to ignore the guilt.

Am I doing all these things perfectly? No. By the time you read this, we’ll be home, and I’m sure my kids will have stories about a grumpy mom moment in a too-small hotel room. But hopefully, they’ll also have a lifetime of memories from this vacation—and others in the future—despite how challenging they can be for introverted parents like me.