Raising four kids has taught my husband and I to stick to what we’re good at. He’s better at managing playgrounds and bike rides; I’m better at getting the kids to dance class and piano practice on time. I cook meals during the week and he takes over on the weekend.
And when it comes to organizing our family’s schedule, there’s only one person who’s allowed to be in charge: me. Everyone else is forbidden from taking a pen anywhere near the wall-mounted calendar. My husband once accidentally deleted an event from our synced iCalendar and I got very testy. When our family gets through a particularly hectic weekend—with everyone showing up in the right place, with the right equipment on hand—I feel a satisfying smugness. (And I feel awful when something gets missed.) Making sure our family’s schedule runs smoothly has become my job.
When I read an article about the phenomenon of moms as the “designated worrier” in each family (we’re the ones to make sure the kids have clothes that fit and show up for class trips), I could totally relate. No matter how much my husband does to help and how equitably we try to split our parenting duties, I still feel like I need to control our family’s every move. I’m not saying moms are the ones doing everything, but we are often the ones making sure everything gets done. Just keeping so many details and reminders in your head at once—especially with four kids—can be exhausting.
The big exception is our annual family vacation. The first time we planned a summer road trip with the kids, I let my husband take care of finding us a cottage, because I was too busy fretting about travelling with a toddler. For our next road trip, we had two young kids to juggle, and he went ahead and found the accommodations and mapped out the driving route. It was a complete role reversal. That was over 10 years ago, and I still remember how surreal it felt to buckle our kids into the car and slide into the passenger seat without having a clue about where we were going. I could feel myself relaxing.
Every road trip since then has been planned by my husband. At first, he would follow me around giving me options and asking me to weigh in with my ideas. (He knows how things normally work around here!) But eventually, I started saying, “Surprise me.”
And he has definitely surprised me. We have walked across the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver, gone whale watching in Cape Cod, white water rafted in Alberta, and completed an ATV obstacle course in a forest in Quebec—all experiences I never would have thought to include on a trip with young kids, and I’m so glad.
Letting myself take a step back from being the boss of our family is good for all of us. It’s an opportunity for my husband to expose our kids to adventures outside my more pragmatic approach to planning, and it’s a much-needed chance for me to take a breather from being the designated worrier.
Now that our kids are school-aged, I even let everyone pack their own bags. Yes, we’ve had to pull over and buy a bathing suit or sunscreen along the way, but I didn’t feel bothered by it at all. I have truly found a way to let myself slide into vacation mode, and I look forward to our trips all year.