The Dreaded First Holiday With Your Child

If you’re a parent but you haven’t yet been on holiday with your child or children, then let me tell you this. Dispense with any fairy-tale notion that you’re ever going to have a relaxing holiday when you go away as a family. Yes, maybe they’ll be a little easier once they hit their teens, especially if you only ever have one child, but those days of going on a chilled holiday as a couple are long gone. 

We were probably a little naïve in thinking it wouldn’t be too hard with a two-year-old. I mean, he throws a little paddy simply because a toy car won’t fit under a wooden bridge that’s about three sizes too small for it. So, why we thought he’d be ok I’ll never know. At least we didn’t have the stress of going abroad, as it was just a two and a half-hour drive to a Haven holiday park known as Primrose Valley in Yorkshire. 

It’s technically not our first holiday, as we went to Spain for a family wedding when he was only around 5 months old. But that was relatively easy, as he was still in the stage where he slept for most of the day. This holiday was our first trip together where Noah could now take part in activities and enjoy himself, although he had many moments that just made us want to pack up and head home.

Trying to get a family photo when a two year-old is wriggling around in your arms and refusing to look at the camera is hard. This was our best attempt in Scarborough.

But I’m probably being a little too harsh, as we did have fun moments on our holiday. It is, after all, mostly about your child having fun. Yet, we were utterly exhausted by the end of it to the point that we travelled home a day early on the Sunday (we were supposed to be out of our accommodation by the Monday) simply because we could have a day off from work to recover once we were back.  

I think the biggest reason he was a little nightmare at times was because he wasn’t getting enough sleep. He’s still sleeping in a cot at home, although we’re thinking about transferring him to a bed soon. It probably wasn’t the best idea to disregard the thought of him using a travel cot in the caravan at Haven. Instead, we decided that he could try sleeping in a bed with a bed guard fitted so that he didn’t go bump in the night. It didn’t go well. 

On the first night of our holiday, he got out of bed and came into the living area over 20 times. We’d keep taking him back, but he was having none of it and made his feelings known by kicking and screaming. He eventually fell asleep just past midnight, and only after my wife Alex decided to sleep in the other single bed in his room. 

While he got a little better as the holiday went on, it was never before 10pm when he finally went to sleep. We must admit to being a little amused when the handle on the door to the living area would slowly come down and he’d wander in with a big grin on his face, before proceeding to play with his toys. We’d constantly be picking him up to take him back to his room, but it was never long before he was back again. We consoled ourselves with the fact that at least we were on holiday. Although he’s going to have to get used to a bed at some point. 

The sleep situation is most likely what made him cranky during the day. On one day we went to a nearby animal farm. We thought that he’d love it as he has when we’ve been to farms in our local area. But even the sight of meerkats couldn’t cheer him up, and he’d refuse to get out of his pram with a high-pitched scream. It’s safe to say that the meerkats weren’t exactly thrilled at this behaviour, retreating further back into their enclosure.  

At least we got him to feed a goat.

He eventually calmed down when he’d had something to eat, and he even fed a goat and went on the park for a good while. But for the first half of the trip, you couldn’t even stop to look at an animal for 5 seconds before he’d scream because he wanted to move on. 

It was even worse at the SeaLife Centre a couple of days later. I’m thankful we got the tickets for free from our Tesco Clubcard vouchers, otherwise it would have been a complete waste of money. He refused to get out of his pram again and had absolutely no desire to peer into any of the tanks, even when I lifted him up to show him the colourful fish. We had some success at the penguins and seals, but even then, he was wanting to move on sharpish.  

Once thing I’ve noticed now that I’m a parent is that everyone in the vicinity of a screaming child seems to stare at the parents like they’re judging you. I realise a screaming child isn’t something you want to hear, especially with the pitch that Noah gets up to, but you’ve also got to accept that children can be unpredictable and kick off at the slightest upset. If something isn’t going their way, the screams come out.  

It doesn’t make you a bad parent if your kid is screaming, because I can guarantee that every parent will go through this at some point. It does make you feel embarrassed and people staring at you doesn’t help the situation. Kids scream, get over it. I’ll try to make the situation better and remove him from the room if I need to, but I don’t need your judging looks. You can follow the parenting ‘rulebooks’ as much as you want, but every child is different and it’s probably never going to go the way you think it is. 

But that screaming and flailing. By God is it tiring.  

I do now understand why people want to ship their kids off to grandparents for a night or two. Because, at least during the week, he’s off at his grandparents or at the childminder while we work. On holiday you’re all together as a family for the duration, and that’s not always going to go smoothly.  

We shipped Noah off to his grandparents the day after we got back, simply so we could go and have a stress-free food shop and have a few precious hours together for a while. Plus, he normally goes to his grandparents on a Monday while we work anyway.  

But it’s important to get that break, whether you’re in a couple or you’re a single parent. I know it’s not always possible but try to find some time to yourself. Even on a holiday you can try to get some time alone, just to breathe for an hour. I told Alex to go and have some time to herself while I looked after Noah when we were on holiday, otherwise she may have ended up tearing all her hair out! 

I now also know why people with kids do go on holiday with their parents, so that you can all share the load together. Being a parent is hard work but having a support network around you makes life that much easier. I’m not saying take advantage and dump your kids on someone all the time, but with people like grandparents they’re usually eager to spend some precious moments with their grandchildren anyway. Hopefully they’re happy to help out, so let them from time to time.  

So don’t feel guilty if you occasionally want a day to yourself. I’d say it’s good for both the parent and child to have some time apart from time to time anyway. Especially as his grandparents won’t be around for as long as his parents will be. You’re not a bad parent for wanting some time away from the temper tantrums. We all need to hit that reset button when we’re feeling overwhelmed.  

Unfortunately, unless you’re happy to go away without your child (and I’d feel very guilty to do that), you’re not going to get a child-free holiday anymore. I’m not talking about the occasional night or two away as a couple, I’m talking about a week or two on holiday. I find it a little odd that people would want to go away without their young kids. It’s different when they’re much older, as they can then do their own thing if they really want to. We just have to learn to deal with the holiday stress when they’re young and just know that things will get better. 

Some fun things I’ll always remember from our holiday: 

  • Noah chasing a seagull across the grass around our caravan and laughing his little head off. 
  • Noah standing in the sea and staring out into nothing, like he was overwhelmed by what he was seeing. 
  • Noah’s face as he came down a giant waterslide on his mother’s lap, before saying ‘again’ once he’d splashed down. 
  • Noah finally getting more confident in the water and floating around in his little ring without persistently trying to grab one of us because he believes he’s going to sink. He’s still not 100%, but he’s getting much better with this. He loved the water as a baby but having to take a break for so long as swimming centres were closed during our pandemic lockdowns may have affected his development in this area. But I’m also aware that children can suddenly hate or fear something they were fine with before, so it’s hard to pinpoint the cause. 
  • Noah reaching up to try and touch a costumed elephant character dancing on the stage at Haven along with loads of other kids. Although I did not appreciate him also trying to climb up on said stage.  
  • Noah grabbing my face and forcing my head towards his in order to kiss me while we waited for his mum. I love it when he does this, because it’s a totally unpromoted kiss.  

We’re thinking about skipping a holiday next year and just doing day trips instead, but part of the reason for that is that we’re moving house soon and want to save our money on making sure it’s all fitted out. He’ll be three by then anyway so maybe life will be easier, but I’m also probably very wrong about that too. 

Anyway, as usual I’m probably just rambling so I’ll end it here. 

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