Frugal Family Footnotes
Survival of the fittest
December 12, 2011
by Kristi Hiivala

By the time this column is printed in the paper, I will have survived the longest six days of my life. How do I know this, you ask? Because it is cold outside and the Christmas hype is starting to rev up and the to-do list for the holidays keeps growing longer by the hour. Oh, and because dad was gone on vacation.

Before anyone jumps up and supports me by exclaiming “Really?? How dare he leave this poor woman at home with all of those kids?” I must preface it all by saying I have been on three vacations in a row since dad has gone on one. I can keep score – I understand it is his turn. But that doesn’t make it any easier! I am beginning to understand why my preschooler continues to scowl after I try to reassure her that she needs to learn how to share. It’s just not fair. I get it now!

It may seem odd that my husband and I don’t vacation together – until you remember that we have kids. Do you realize how hard it is for both mom and dad to be away at the same time? And I am not even talking about vacations or even a weekend getaway. It can sometimes be darn impossible to get away together for dinner and a movie.

First of all, there is the realization that for the two of us to go out, we would need to muster up enough energy to clean up and look like civilized members of society. I understand that there are places we could go out to eat where we can wear our sweatpants and favorite t-shirt with a hole under the arm, but we go to those places all the time (aka the drive-thru restaurant). And sometimes, the allure of crashing on the couch in front of the television after the kids finally go to sleep is too strong.

But for the sake of this column, it’s been decided that mom and dad will go out to eat at a place that doesn’t serve chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs.

Who is going to watch the kids?? A quick run-through of the neighborhood families and any unsuspecting teenage children is assessed. Even if you can find a babysitter, the cost of hiring this person to watch over your children while you eat can often cost more than the dinner itself!

So, I am offering the following suggestions as alternative and inexpensive ways to escape from the zoo that is your home:

• The most obvious solution may lie in your family itself. Do you have older children that are responsible enough to look after younger siblings? Generally speaking, kids who are 12-14 years of age could be able to help, but you as the parent should definitely first decide if your oldest child can handle emergencies, making mac-n-cheese, and some attitude from little brothers and sisters!

• Start a babysitting coop with your parental friends. You can research online some ideas of what other families have done, but generally speaking, you want to have 10 families of children of similar ages and set up a calendar of days/nights you would like to drop your kids off at their house for a play date. And to return the favor, they will do the same on their day/night out. In addition to being free, this is also a good way to allow your kids to have their friends over to play. It’s a win-win situation!

• Guilt by association. Ask grown-up family members to come over and play with their niece/nephew/godson/third-cousin-once-removed. This option seems like the most comfortable for mom and dad, but it could be the most easily abused. Make sure that grandma and grandpa continue to feel like the gatekeepers of all things spoiled ,and less like they are raising kids (again). Also, keeping a lid on overusing relatives as babysitters secures the possibility of a better Christmas present if they draw your name!

• If all else fails, plan a date at home. Once the kiddos are sleeping, shove the toys in the toy box, light a candle, put on music (something other than the ABC song) and pull out a game board. There is no guarantee that your time alone won’t be interrupted by a diaper change, but you can guarantee that your date will be most understanding. And do what I do – insist on playing paper, rock, scissors to decide who tackles the dirty diapers (p.s. I never lose . . . ).

As much as dad needed a vacation, I needed to realize how much I rely on him to be my “take the kids downstairs to play while I clean up from dinner” babysitter. Here’s to hoping he had a great vacation and I survived. Only a future column will tell.

Happy savings!

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