Dear Carolyn • Is it ever OK for parents to take a loooong break? My husband and I have two toddlers in diapers and are totally exhausted. We have been talking about splurging on a vacation for just the two of us, and leaving the girls with a long-term sitter whom we would interview and vet very carefully, of course. I vacillate between thinking this is the best idea we've ever had and worrying that it's selfish.
Dear Maryland • Please read my April 13, 2011, column. http://wapo.st/grydsZ. Short version: Parents take two-week pleasure trip, leave toddler with Grandma, Grandma burns out, child gets handed off twice and ends up with someone the parents don't even know. Parents taking a spa break need to do better than screen a long-term sitter. Things happen, people get sick or tired or slip through the tightest vetting. Can you live with that? You must take exhaustion seriously, yes, and if you don't rest, then you risk becoming the sketchy caregivers yourselves. But think about the problem from more than one angle first, and: (1) Postpone "loooong break," and overhaul your schedule to add many small breaks. If you can manage "splurging," then you can afford twice-a-week help. Consider hiring a parent's helper: a responsible young adult to watch the girls regularly while you're home tending to other things (nap or book, even). (2) Employ any long-term candidate as a regular sitter long enough to prove competence, safety and good judgment, and for kids and sitter to get comfortable together. That's just due diligence. (3) Next, when all is well, go away overnight and nearby. See how it goes. (4) Do you pull 18 straight hours of kid care without relief? A caregiver of small children needs someone else to step in paid or otherwise for several hours daily. And you need emergency backup plans, in case your sitter gets sick or injured. (5) If at this point you still want/need a loooong vacation, then make sure you haven't skipped any of these steps and keep it to a length where you won't hate yourself if something goes wrong. Never expect relatives or paid employees to do more heroic work with your kids than you do.
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.