An only child needs a travel companion Playmates: When there's no sibling along on the trip, parents should look for places where friends can be found.

Taking the Kids

June 22, 1997|By Eileen Ogintz | Eileen Ogintz,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Nine-year-old Sydney Thorne was the least satisfied guest in the place. Not only was she the only child in the English manor-house hotel, but there was nothing on the elaborate menu she liked. Even worse, the multi-course dinners lasted for hours, and she had nowhere to go when she was done.

There wasn't anything for her to do, either, when the grown-ups gathered by the fire, except be on good behavior, of course.

Sydney, an only child, had no siblings who could share her frustration or break up the monotony.

"She was bored the entire time," sighed her mother, Simonetta Thorne, recalling that miserable weekend three years ago while the family was living in London.

"When you make the reservation, you have to be sure there will other kids around," Thorne suggests. "It's no fun just with Mom and Dad." It's no fun, either, for Mom and Dad, who, much as they love their child, don't want to spend every minute of their vacation as her playmate or amuse him in the car for hours at a stretch.

"There are only so many word searches you can do," said Sharon Barish, a kindergarten teacher in Madison, Wis., and mother of an 11-year-old. The dilemma is becoming all the more common as the number of families with one child continues to grow.

Some of those kids, like Nancy Jervis' 9-year-old son, Ben, are used to amusing themselves. That makes things considerably easier for Mom or Dad, especially if they're traveling solo. "Ben always behaves better in a hotel," says Jervis, who has taken her son with her to China on business trips.

UCLA child psychologist Jill Waterman notes that only children often are better-behaved than those from larger families when they're in adult environments, such as restaurants and hotels, because they're more used to being around grown-ups.

That's not to say they'll like it any better than any other child. For that reason, she urges parents to resist the temptation to treat their child as "a little adult" on vacation. "Remember, no matter how well he behaves, he's still a kid," she says.

That's why Kyle McCarthy, publisher of the Family Travel Forum newsletter, and her husband deliberately seek out spots when they travel with their 5-year-old son, Regan Bozman, where they're likely to find other children from the area they're visiting. It doesn't seem to matter if they don't speak the same language. Once in Madrid, she recalled, Regan jumped in and played a game the others were playing at an outdoor restaurant, though he couldn't understand a word of Spanish. But as kids get older, many families find they like the insurance of knowing their child will have a companion, so they invite along a friend.

My tip: Invite a child who already is a frequent visitor to your house and comfortable with your family's rhythms and routines. And be clear from the outset whether you're picking up the other child's expenses or whether you expect her parents to foot the bill for her flight, her meals or Disney World pass.

Not only will your child be less demanding, but you'll worry less about giving him the taste of freedom he craves, as long as he's not cruising the resort town's main street or the theme park entirely on his own.

Some single parents of only children say another option is to vacation with another family. You also need to consider that adding any nonfamily member to the mix will change the entire dynamic of the trip, notes Waterman. "It's not going to be the same family experience," she says.

If you don't want to give up that family time that can be especially wonderful when you can focus fully on one child, opt for a more child-oriented trip, rather than one centered on adult pursuits. Plan activities, whether sailing, camping or shopping, that capitalize on an interest you and your child share.

Jervis suggests heading to a resort that caters to single-parent families like a Club Med or Copper Mountain in Colorado, or to a cruise ship where the well-organized children's programs will guarantee you some "alone time" while your child is happily engaged elsewhere.

Pub Date: 6/22/97

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