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Originally published Sunday, April 20, 2014 at 6:16 AM

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Stop stressing over kids’ behavior on vacation

Columnist Carolyn Hax tells a mom to forget the doomed assignment of trying to present a seamless, seven-day performance of best behavior by her high-energy boys, ages 4 and 6, on a family trip.

Syndicated columnist


Dear Carolyn

Hi, Carolyn:

My boys are 4 and 6 and high energy, though well behaved for their ages. My parents, who don’t live nearby, want to plan a weeklong family vacation along with my childless brother and his wife.

Sis-in-law is fantastic with kids. My brother and parents are fairly high-strung and have age-inappropriate expectations. Their primary interaction with my children is scolding them for bickering, playing too loudly, being too active, etc.

I have learned to correct my family frankly but kindly when they overstep my parenting. But it is stressful, and we feel like we can’t leave the room lest our kids be scolded for something unexpected; and when my kids are stressed, their behavior worsens.

For the past three years, we have limited visits with my family to three days for our sanity. The prospect of a weeklong visit is making me anxious. We plan to schedule outings and we will stay in an appropriately sized and outfitted house (outdoor pool, big yard, games, etc.).

Is it wise to have a “family conference” at the beginning of the trip to set expectations, or send an email (I write better than I speak), or say something in person beforehand? Or should I just cross my fingers and let things play out?

— A.

DEAR A.: Why not all the above, plus consider a shorter stay. Just because your parents planned a week doesn’t mean you have to stay a week.

What, exactly, has you so stressed out: Are you feeling judged as a parent by your parents and brother? For that, I suggest a mantra: “I don’t need their approval.” Are you worried the scolding will harm your kids? Your kids probably won’t like your folks a whole lot, but they’ll withstand these infrequent grumpy corrections. Are you annoyed that the scolding revs up your kids, thereby making your already tough kid-wrangling job even tougher? That’s a nuisance yes, but one that expires when the vacation does.

Your family may be the source of the scolding and impatience with little-kid energy, but the pressure originates inside you.

You can defang it all by choosing not even to try to present a seamless, seven-day performance of best behavior. It’s not going to happen anyway, so don’t give yourself the doomed assignment of prostrating yourself to make it so.

Hi, Carolyn:

A good friend, married for four years, has confided in me that she’s being hit on by a male co-worker, and has reciprocal feelings. Based on the anecdotes she has shared so far, it seems like they are one ill-advised after-work cocktail from making a major mistake.

So, what am I supposed to do? Talking to my friend’s husband is out of the question — my loyalty is to her. Issuing judgment and trying to talk her out of her desires seems doomed to failure, and she may resent me for it later.

I have asked her point-blank what sort of feedback she wants from me, and she says she has no idea.

— Friend


I’m stunned you haven’t once said, “Gah! What are you doing?” It isn’t issuing judgment to try to grab someone’s belt loop when she’s leaning far off a cliff. She trusts you.

Be the one who says what she won’t want to hear, that a moment of weakness can dog her the rest of her life. If she resents that, so be it.

Email Carolyn at and follow her on Facebook at Find her columns daily at

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