The first time we went on a couples getaway after leaving our kids overnight was when our oldest was about 18 months old. I was pregnant with our 2nd child, and my parents lived about half an hour away and loved our son. We’d stayed over at their house many times together and he was comfortable with them and their home. We went away for 2 nights and it was a delightful, needed reset from parenting life.
Since then, we’ve been fortunate to leave our kids overnight with trusted caregivers (in our case grandparents) almost every year. Sometimes it was just for a night or two, while other times, we’ve enjoyed a week-long couples trip. Each has been amazing and we’re so grateful to our parents for making that possible and for loving and caring for our children while we’re gone.
The first time can feel a bit daunting, and things changed even more once we had kids in school (and moved across the country from grandparents). Here are a few tips that have helped us throughout so that everyone feels comfortable, confident, and enjoys the time!
Build A Relationship First
We’ve been very fortunate to have grandparents be the ones to watch our kids when we’ve gone away on a couples trip. But good relationships aren’t a given, even with grandparents. We’ve made an effort to have our kids get to know and spend time with both sets of grandparents many times before leaving them with them. Because of that, our kids feel very comfortable with and trust them. They get super excited to have that special grandparent time!
This doesn’t necessarily mean your kids need to spend constant time with a potential caregiver. In fact, both sets of our kids’ grandparents live on the other side of the United States from us, so we only see them in person a couple times a year. But in addition to that, we love doing FaceTime, making cards, and generally trying to connect in other ways. We’ve spent overnight visits together several times with us present, so everyone involved can feel comfortable.
And this is definitely possible even if you have no family at all to help out! Our favorite place to find trusted care when we need it is Care.com, and that’s for sure where we’ll go when we need an overnight caregiver when grandparents cannot. I love that you can look for specific qualities and experience, training, reviews, and certifications. I’d recommend having someone babysit a few times for a few hours first and get comfortable with things like driving the family car, then consider an overnight option. You could also consider swapping with very trusted friends if you need a less costly option.
Make & Print A Schedule
I always like to make a big master schedule that has every activity, practice, even chores on there. It makes it easier for whoever is watching our kids (thus far only grandparents) to know what needs to happen when. While we might have a good idea of the day-to-day flow of things, it’s trickier for someone who isn’t there all the time to know when to remind kids to practice instruments, wash lunchboxes, etc.
I personally prefer to make a simple Google Sheet, then print it out to tape up in the kitchen (the central area of our home). While we do a lot of things digitally, it’s really helpful for someone unfamiliar with the schedule to have a full visual of what needs to happen when. I also like to highlight dropoff/pickup times to make those especially clear.
I never expect the grandparents to follow the schedule perfectly – it’s mostly there to assist them with what helps keep things running smoothly, but I absolutely expect that things won’t go completely according to plan. I want to make it as easy as possible for them, and they’ve always been appreciative of the easy reference.
This includes things like bedtimes, snacks, and screen time. I’m very aware those things will be a bit different while we’re away – and that’s totally fine! It won’t hurt my kids one bit in the long run, and they’ll have fun in that time. I DO try to share things that will make it easier for the caretaker – my kids are never happy when they’re only eating junk all day or watching screens for hours. It’ll make everyone’s lives easier if they continue to follow the same general rules and schedule, with a few allowances.
Plan or Make Meals in Advance + Stock Up On Groceries
This will vary somewhat by who is doing the child-watching, but even if it’s someone who really loves to cook, I always think it’s helpful to have a general meal plan ready. There’s already usually a lot going on with caring for the kids, so meals don’t need to be an added stress.
I like to keep things pretty simple and straightforward to keep both food prep and cleanup easy. I usually will prepare a meal or two in advance, they’ll order pizza one night, and my two oldest kids may make a meal or two if it’s their night to make dinner. Here are a few quick meals I like to prepare that are easy to cook the night of, but are still reasonably nutritious:
- Vegetarian chili (I usually put everything in a big Ziploc that can then be dumped into a slow cooker)
- Enchilada casserole
- Indian curry
- Frozen meals from Trader Joe’s
We also always like to stock up on groceries in advance so there are plenty of staples like milk, eggs, cheese, snacks, etc. We always like to ask grandparents what they’d like to have on had so they have any specific foods, as well.
Share the Plan & Decide Times for Communication
Kids generally like to know what’s happening in advance, and can feel more comfortable if they know if and when they’ll talk to you. Especially if it’s your first time away, try discussing what your general plan is while you’ll be away, and a few times that you’ll call to check in. That way, everyone can focus on enjoying the time together (or away!) and look forward to specific times for communication.
And in sharing and communicating, I recommend not belaboring it – that sometimes has the opposite effect of creating more worry! We generally try to share things we’re excited about, things they can be excited about at home, and be cheerful and calm about the times we’ll talk. Kids tend to pick up on worry or anxiousness, so if you do feel uncomfortable, try not to share that with your little ones. It’s helpful when they can recognize the importance of parents getting away and spending time focusing on one another, and to know that you’ll be excited to see them when you return.
Review Emergency Procedures & Phone Numbers
Every home should have a few emergency procedures in place – what to do in case of a fire, where the hospital is, who to call if there’s an emergency. I like to leave a list of emergency phone numbers (doctor, dentist, ER, neighbor) in the very unlikely case they’ll be needed (they never have been so far, thank goodness!). We also have a fire extinguisher handy and talk through basic first aid procedures. If your children need any medication, be sure to talk through timing and dosage for that, as well.
It’s also a good idea to write a letter stating that the caregiver has power for medical decision making during the period they’ll be there. That way, they can take the best possible care of your child in the unlikely event an emergency does happen.
This one is a bit more personal, but I tend to function best in a clean home. And there’s usually no way for a new caregiver to manage all the childcare and also keep things totally clean. And I don’t want them to! Especially with grandparents, I’d rather them use that time to spend with grandkids than cleaning toilets.
So for us, it’s super helpful to have cleaners come in either right before or shortly after we return home. It’s nice to have a fresh start and to not feel overwhelmed right when we return home.
Remember that this is supposed to be a fun time! Try not to stress too much – it will all work out just fine. Your kids will adapt, you’ll adapt, your caregiver will adapt. And you’re giving your kids the gift of modeling self-care and fostering other relationships! Either way, it’s just for a short period of time, so may as well try to enjoy the well-deserved time away. 🙂