What I learned from traveling with my kids

My husband and I adopted our son from foster care in March of 2014 and our daughter from foster care in July of 2015. Both of our kids have experienced significant trauma and struggle with attachment issues that are often expressed with defiance towards us and other frustrating behaviors, so when I clicked “purchase” to buy four non-refundable plane tickets to Texas over Christmas break for our first vacation as a family of four, I wondered if I had lost my mind.

After talking with the kids’ therapist, we decided not to tell our kids about the trip until we left for the airport. The night before our flight, I tossed and turned with anxiety about how they would react to the news of going on a trip (kids with histories of trauma don’t like surprises). Would they cry and throw a tantrum? Would they fake excitement and then save all their anxiety to come out in the form of tantrums/bathroom issues/food hoarding on the plane for one hundred strangers to see and judge us for the lack of control we have over our children?  Or would they save all of these issues for Texas forcing my husband and me to deal with behaviors rather than spend precious moments with my grandfather? My own anxiety robbed me of sleep.

We woke the kids at three in the morning to dress them and hurry them out to the hotel lobby so we could wait for our shuttle. We surprised them in the hotel lobby and video taped their reactions--our son, the introvert, gasped at the news and covered his mouth--his wide eyes darted back and forth between my husband and me as if he was trying to figure out what this all meant. Our daughter, the extrovert, shouted, “FOR THE FIRST TIME I GET TO FLY ON AN AIRPLANE!” We explained where we’d be traveling to, how many days we’d be gone, that we’d make a stop at South Padre Island to swim in the ocean, and that we’d have a layover in Minneapolis--a city our son has wanted to visit ever since a classmate of his moved there last summer. I waited on my tiptoes in the hotel lobby for the tantrums….but there were none. There were none on the shuttle, none at the airport, none on the plane, and none for the first two days of vacation. My husband and I were deliberate at filling our days with equal amounts of fun activities in Texas and free-time for them to play and rest back at my grandpa’s house. We tended to a few meltdowns and defiance on our last day of the trip, but none of these behaviors were severe.
Our kids...running into the Gulf of Mexico

As I scan through all the photos from our trip and see the pure excitement on our kids’ faces, I’m realizing just how important this trip was for our little family. I think this vacation told our kids that they can trust us to provide for them above and beyond their basic needs. I think the trip affirmed for our kids (especially our daughter who we recently adopted) that their place in our family is firm. For my husband and me, the trip taught us that our kids can handle certain amounts of stress as long as we are deliberate about balancing them with predictable routines.

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