When our kids were toddlers, my husband and I decided to take them to visit my in-laws in Florida for a week. It was a particularly harsh winter. When we found cheap airfare, we figured we’d throw a few things in a suitcase, grab their favorite lovies and a few board books, and be on our way.
We were wrong.
Turns out, traveling with toddlers takes approximately three weeks of advanced planning. And, when you arrive to your destination, absolutely everything takes six times longer than it should. On a particularly ill-fated trip to the beach where our then 4-year-old son wandered off on the beach (he was rescued by a very kind octogenarian who bought him an ice cream) and our 2-year-old daughter had a meltdown because the sand was “too hurty,” my husband and I were pretty convinced that traveling wouldn’t be easy until the toddlers grew into teens.
Turns out, we were wrong again.
Seemingly overnight, those tough traveling toddlers turned into teens who were less than thrilled to be yanked away from their friends and schoolwork in favor of a little sun and fun.
A few months ago, preparing to travel out of state to check on a rental property we own, my husband and I realized that we had reached the part of parenting where we could leave our teenagers home alone. We were dumbfounded at this realization. And, truth be told, nervous at the prospect of leaving our teens for a few days without adult supervision.
But, the more we talked to the kids and we mulled things over between us, we realized that with our son only weeks away from his 18th birthday and our daughter enjoying her first year of high school, we were presented with a unique opportunity to leave our teenagers home alone and allow them to learn how to fend for themselves in a somewhat controlled environment.
After much discussion, we decided to travel without them and I’m proud to say that we all survived. Aside from the fact that I was a nervous wreck for the first few days we were gone, no one was worse for the wear.
Leaving Teens Home Alone
Here’s what we learned:
1. Something absolutely ridiculous will happen when you leave your teenagers home alone. Don’t panic.
Before we left, I consulted a few friends who had teens older than mine and asked them how best to plan. One of my friends simply said, “Plan for them to do something dumb while you are gone.” She went on to detail how her son had an incident with the dishwasher while she and her husband were on a long weekend getaway. Specifically, he’d used dish detergent instead of dishwashing tabs. My friend told me the mishap was a teachable moment and one that her son is certain not to repeat in his first apartment. Sure enough, while we were away, our son managed to lock himself out of our house. Thankfully, he was resourceful enough to contact a neighbor who had a spare key and all was well again.
2. Arranging for a few friends to stop in for “proof of life” checks will save your sanity.
When I asked another friend to stop by our house every few days to check in on the kids (and to make sure our Shih Tzu was surviving being taken care of by teens), she smirked and told me the first few trips away from teens were always the hardest. She assured me that, eventually, being separated from our kids wouldn’t feel so momentous. And, when she texted me silly selfies of her and the kids while we were gone, I was grateful for friends who knew just what I needed to enjoy my trip.
3. Trust your parenting and give your teens the benefit of the doubt.
Before we left, I wrote detailed lists and itineraries and left a to-do list a mile long, lest they get bored without their parents. Did the laundry get done on Tuesday like I’d suggested? No. Did they eat the carefully prepared chicken parmigiana I’d left in the freezer? Definitely not. But we came home to a house that wasn’t a wreck, kids who’d somehow figured out how to feed themselves at the appropriate time and, to our knowledge, they did not throw a raging kegger in our basement. In fact, they both detailed how much they relished having a break from our family routine and how much they enjoyed eating dinner in front of their favorite movies every night.
4. We had a taste of what it will be like in retirement and it didn’t suck.
While we were gone, we FaceTimed with our teens regularly and communicated via our family group text. Our daughter texted when she didn’t know how to complete a recipe and our son FaceTimed us while he was in the midst of a school deadline drama. At the end of every call or text, my husband and I would resign ourselves to the fact that the kids would somehow just have to figure things out, much like when they are living in a dorm.
The best part of traveling without kids was learning to let go and give our teens some independence. That, and not having to deal with grumpy toddlers with sandy diapers at the beach.