How to Have a Tantrum-Free Vacation - Christine Kane

RelaxFor one year in my early 20’s, I was a nanny for a baby named Nathan. Nathan was the cutest baby in the world.  Until he got tired.

Now, we adults like to think we’re rational beings.  And as rational beings, here’s how we think it should go:

Baby gets tired. Baby goes to sleep.

Nathan thought it should be more like this:

Baby gets tired. Baby goes postal.

In fact, when Nathan was tired, the very LAST thing he wanted to do was go to sleep.  He’d squirm. He’d fling things.  He’d get needy.  He’d cry. He’d fuss.  This would last for hours.

After I had mentally quit my job about 16 different times, he’d finally fall asleep.  Usually across my chest on the sofa after slapping my face and grabbing my hair for a little while just to prove he wasn’t tired.

He’d wake up shiny, rested, and blissfully unaware of the havoc he just wreaked on his caretaker.  “Ah life!” he seemed to say, “And how was YOUR nap?”

I thought of Nathan this past week on my vacation.

We all need vacations and time away from our work like babies need naps. (Hell, we could all use lots more naps, too!)  Vacations are terrific. They are necessary.

As rational adults, we know this.

And I know something else too.  I know that Nathan is not the only example of resistance to rest.  Some of us can enter our vacations kicking and screaming inside, wreaking all kinds of havoc in our own heads, convincing ourselves that we don’t need sleep! We need to stay busy!  In fact, our minds often go even faster once they figure out we’re trying to relax and that there’s pressure to do it within a week!

I understand this about myself the way I came to understand Nathan’s nap aversion.  So, here’s what I do:

When I go on vacation, I quietly give myself permission to have three full days for my bitchy self to throw her mini-tantrums, make her judgments on my reading choices, criticize, attack, and yammer on and on about a wide variety of topics.  I do not resist. Nor do I tell her to shut up.  I simply know she’s fighting her nap.

If I give her these three days, something will happen.

It’ll be a moment on Day 2.  I’ll get lost in watching a sandpiper’s funny little legs run as fast as he can away from the water.  I will breathe and remember myself.  My bitchy self will shut up and watch with me. Then, she’ll jump back up with a new and improved nervous thought.  (This is not unlike those occasions when Nathan’s eyes would droop nearly shut and then “Sproing!” He’d jerk awake and start wriggling to get free.)

Then, more moments with more sandpipers and sea glass and angles of sunlight will happen, capturing me in their beauty and timelessness. Eventually, the bitchy nervous self will feel her eyes droop closed, and she won’t fight it. Her eyes stay closed, and my vacation becomes transformative.

So, this is how to have a tantrum-free vacation:

Start with awareness.  Give yourself permission.  Be practical about it. (I call my process “The 3-Day Bitch Wall.”)
Whether your tantrum-thrower shows up as a busy crazy woman or a driven ambitious guy, just allow them to be there without judging their insanity. (Judging will only make them work harder. Trust me!)  Allowing, on the other hand, will give them the space to diffuse and eventually to sleep.

“Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.”                                                                                                                                      – Eckhart Tolle

  • Sue Sullivan

    It’s amazing how effective acceptance is. Thanks for showing us this angle, Christine!

  • Mary Jo (Sam)

    Hey Christine,

    Thanks for this post! I am now a happy empty nester, but I do remember those times when I would walk and walk around the house very tired waiting for my little one to give in.

    As far as vacations, when my husband and I travel for vacation, it’s usually via Amtrak 1st class, so for the first 18 hours you have no choice but to relax, and that we do. But when I have a week off to myself, rather than following the 3 day bitch plan, I was using the 3 day ADHD plan. I would start all these “fun projects”, like sewing, re-arranging the furniture, using my husband’s power tools to do things he didn’t think I could do, and by day 3 I had all of these projects started and none finished. Then I had to spend the last day or 2 cleaning up my mess.
    Not very relaxing. BUT this year, I figured out that it was OK to just have a vacation! I read 2 books, went to the Maine shore with a friend,
    spent most days in my Pj’s, did some gardening, and just chilled out. It was the best vacation I have ever had!

    I’m glad you had a restful time and I hope you have filled yur well!

  • Kathleen Krucoff

    Excellent post and advice. Thanks!

  • Nancy Harder

    Hi Christine,

    Both your blog post and e-zine article have been unbelievably apropos for me this week. I love the idea of the 3 day Bitch wall (from your blog) and fearlessly creating a relationship with one’s fledgling business (e-zine).

    After participating in your retreat this past June, I have been voraciously reading books you recommended, your blog and ezine article, and am once again dreaming. Really dreaming. I haven’t done that in years.

    So, thank you helping to “fill our well” and I’m so glad your well filling time was so wonderful.

  • Amanda

    ah, after a long weekend full of family (and the 15-month-old therefore off his regular schedule), I can relate to both the direct example (tired toddler) and the lesson drawn (wiped woman.) Thanks for the rueful laughs! And yes, ain’t it *amazing* how those kiddos can wake up just full of sunshine and joy, once they get the nap? My husband has finally given in to the program, but he used to ask me all the time, “if they’re so tired, why do we have to teach them to nap? won’t they just fall asleep?” Resistance, programmed in from an early age.

  • Pam Hauser

    Resistance is futile! I have been recently pondering this thing, resistance. My first reflex thought was to resist it! How’s that for clueless! I’ve come up with an opposite kinda thing to focus on…allowing. I’m really not in a mood to fight, so allowing is working better for me. It takes much less energy and has much less drama associated with it.

    That said, I came back from vacation to have a bear on my porch. Allowing is obviously NOT something that I have mastered! Se my website for pictures:

  • Amylia Grace

    Great reminder, Christine! You crack me up with your “3 Day Bitch Wall.” You’re like the German language that way–really naming exactly what the thing is without muss or fuss! I look forward to smiling at the voice in my head and love Tolle’s recognition of the moment(s) when one longer takes the content of the mind all that seriously, indeed knowing one’s sense of self does not depend on it. God I want that! 🙂

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  • Christine Kane

    So glad to see that mom’s have written in with their authentic selves showing brightly! (Being a nanny definitely woke me up to what you all go through!)

    And yes, aren’t sandpipers the best? There’s something SO funny in the fact that they just HATE the water — and yet they have to go there to get their food. It’s such an intense paradox – and it SO worries them! (they’d make good catholics.) 🙂

  • lilly

    I just took my kids to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania this past weekend, and now (3 days later) reading this post, I see step-by-step that all of this tantrum-throwing occurred with me before leaving. My kids must fear these outings by now. Whether we’re on time or late, doesn’t matter. I will bellow commands, criticize everyone, telling them to hurry-up, hurry-up, hurry-up, and quite noticeably demolish any sense of calm I had the week before or any sense of excitement I may have felt about the trip. But during the 2-hour drive to get there, my inner toddler becomes mellowed by the hum of the car, entranced by the cows and horses outside the windows, and lulled by the music on the radio. A new person emerges… until the next trip. Thank you for revealing myself to me, Christine!

  • Jenny

    I hadn’t thought about the three-days of tantrums before, but it makes total sense. It seems to be the reason why two day weekends never feel long enough, and three or four day mini-vacations are just long enough to start making me feel relaxed… and why my husband encourages long weekends for both of us once and awhile.

    Now that I know there is an official diagnosis, I think I will cut my tantruming self a little slack on the first few days of a vacation. Thanks for clearing this up, Christine!

  • Laura

    I remember years ago asking my grandmother why my cranky nephew would not just SHUT UP and go to sleep. Three kids later….I totally get it. Also underscores why we (as adults) must schedule vacations before bitchy-selves insist they’re not necessary or maybe even counter-productive.

  • Jodi at Joy Discovered

    Hi Christine!
    Welcome back! Great article, I love the comparisons to your experience with Nathan. Now that you mention it, I realize I go through that three-day phase as well. I never thought of that as throwing a vacation tantrum but you are so right! Your advice for dealing with it is great. My husband doesn’t seem to do this but he’s so funny. For about three days in a row he’ll keep saying, “I finally feel like I’m relaxed.” By the fourth day, he IS relaxed and he doesn’t need to say it anymore.

    P.S. I also delight in the sandpipers. Their little legs running feverishly across the beach dazzle me every summer!

  • sue

    Perfect. Felt this way even about this long 3 day weekend! Great way to look at this, thank you. I love how you can describe your awareness and the observer part of you. Helps us find a way to do the same.

    And LOVE the sandpipers. I have to make sound effects when I watch them run away with those skinny little legs. Too much Chuck Jones in my childhood-can’t resist! 🙂

  • Helen Palmer

    Just wanted to comment and say how much i like this post. Firstly, because my baby is 3 weeks old and I relate to the whole – baby going postal thing! But scondly, because I think you have some really good ideas about dealing with that bitchy inner voice. Will try them out!

    I am also going to cross post a link to this post (with due credits) onto my blog –

    Best wishes
    Helen Palmer