Chris Buth felt she'd been let out of jail on her last vacation, sleeping late and lounging on the beach.
"You can't put a price on a full week of sleeping in," said Buth, a suburban Chicago speech pathologist and the mother of a baby and a 3-year-old.
But Buth and her husband, Mark, didn't leave the kids behind. Instead, they took their regular sitter with them to Florida for a week.
"I would do it again in a second," said Buth, saying the added cost -- the price of a plane ticket and a few meals -- was well worth the R&R time and flexibility she and her husband got in return. The arrangement, she explained, also enabled them to spend more individual time with each child.
"This was the first vacation with the kids that felt like a vacation," Buth said. "I didn't come back exhausted."
Problem for all parents
Finding time away from the kids on a family trip is a dilemma all parents face, whether their kids are toddlers or teens. The logistics are far harder to arrange away from home. How can you know when teens are old enough to stay alone in a hotel? Can you find a capable and kind baby sitter?
Traveling families, leery of child-care providers they don't know, like best the idea of inviting an extra pair of hands along on the trip: A teen-age neighbor or cousin, a single brother-in-law or grandparent, for example.
"If the kids like their grandparents, that can be kind of neat, though sometimes you have to negotiate how much they'll watch the kids," jokes Donald Greydanus, a Michigan State University pediatrics professor and adolescence expert who spoke from personal experience.
"I find especially when I'm combining family time with work, bringing a sitter -- or another adult the kids know -- provides the peace of mind and flexibility the kids and I need," he says. "What if somebody gets sick? What if my meeting runs later than their scheduled activity?"
Traveling with a familiar baby sitter, of course, is also best for the children, says Susan Aronson, a Pennsylvania pediatrician and professor who is the American Academy of Pediatrics spokeswoman on child-care issues.
"Think of it from the child's perspective," she says -- how youngsters might feel in a strange place with a person they don't know.
Of course, bringing a sitter from home isn't always an option. It can be expensive or, at the least, intrusive. That's why some parents choose vacation locales that offer children's programs. Los Angeles mom Carrie Carlisi networks with her friends and relatives in other cities to arrange for sitters when she'll be visiting. She hires their favorite sitters and always pays them extremely well, so that they'll be available next time.
Wherever you go, expect to pay more than at home -- as much as $10 or $14 an hour.
Hotels typically will refer guests to licensed agencies. But all that means, experts explain, is that they've met minimum state requirements for operating a business.
Even if you hire a hotel employee, you have no guarantee. Criminal background checks are not required for all employees, hotel executives explain. One tip: Those who work in children's programs typically have been checked. Consider asking your child's camp counselor, ski instructor or tennis teacher to baby-sit.
If you call an agency, ask a lot of questions, suggests Dorothy Thompson, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies. The experts suggest: Is the employment agency licensed and regulated? How long has it been in business?
Has the sitter been screened for a criminal record?
How much child care experience does she have?
Does she know CPR and first aid?
Can you call her references?
What kinds of activities would she do with the kids?
How would she handle an emergency?
Aronson advises that parents carry a beeper or cell phone so that they can be reached instantly. "There's no substitute for immediate access to a parent in an emergency," she says.
For those skittish about sitters they don't know, call Child Care Aware at (800) 424-2246 before leaving home. The national effort was started to assist parents in finding quality child care and can help you find a "drop-in" child-care center, a licensed family child care home or a qualified baby sitter in the area you will be visiting.
But what happens when the kids insist -- as my older two do -- that they no longer need a sitter?
"The best thing is to discuss all of the possibilities before you go on the trip: what the kids would do in case of fire, in case someone is banging on the door, in case they feel sick," suggests Greydanus, the father of four teens and editor of the Academy of Pediatrics' "Caring for Your Adolescent." (Call  228-5005 to order the $19.95 volume.)
Don't make the vacation the first time they're on their own, either, he suggests. And think twice before giving older siblings the responsibility for younger ones, even if they baby-sit at home. Says Greydanus: "Even the best kids can make mistakes in judgment. If you've got any doubts at all, don't leave them." And when you do, remember to check up every once in a while.
Pub Date: 5/12/96