Fancy events + no sleep + small children = help?
August 17, 2014 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Family trip coming up, and I need advice on helping my five-year-old daughter manage sleep-deprivation and jetlag. In the context of a wedding weekend, with all the attendant social and behavioral expectations. With bonus similarly-aged relative who brings out her most rambunctious side. What can I do by way of scheduling, boundaries, etc., to keep this sane while still being polite?

We'll be travelling west across a three-hour time difference. Daughter's current bedtime is 7:30 PM (generally asleep by 8), and the weekend's events will consist of three consecutive fancy restaurant meals, all starting ~9:30+ PM home time (6:30 PM destination time), plus some morning stuff on two of the three days. I have been advised by the family that letting her stay home from one dinner with a babysitter will NOT be an option; nor will she be able to come in PJs/ have a separate room to relax in/ etc., as others have suggested. Unfortunately, the very last evening of the three is a close relative's wedding in which she will be participating, so there'll be extra pressure at the very end to perform and generally not f** things up by rolling around on the floor, bursting into tears, etc.

Daughter is generally well-behaved, but gets hyper and temperamental on progressively less sleep. We've never really tried her beyond 1-2 nights of staying up 1-2 hours past bedtime, so this is Uncharted Territory we're going into. Unfortunately, she has school both immediately before and immediately after the trip, so pre-acclimating her to Destination Time is not really an option.

I am increasingly agreeing with previous advice here that this could be a disaster in the making, and I'm trying to put together a broader plan of attack to manage things as best I can for both my daughter and the wedding folks. I need advice on two fronts:

(1) Logistics and child management. What kind of schedule is going to be best to help my daughter keep it together through the weekend and especially through the formal events? Should I let her sleep in as late as she wants? Naps or not, and if so, when? During the day, should she be out running around in the sun, or relaxing quietly indoors? Meals on Home time, or on Destination Time? Are there other discipline/behavior structures that have helped you in like circumstances?

(2) Civility and family obligations. Obviously, the expectation/hope of the relatives is that Daughter will be both present and non-disruptive for most of the time at all these events. Various older attendees may have still more stringent expectations for her comportment and participation. As a non-blood-relation, what boundaries can I safely set w/r/t scheduling and logistics, while still being polite? If we leave early from some dinners, how early can we leave? If Daughter is starting to lose it, may I remove her from the table and take a long walk? How much tableside amusement apparatus (headphones, DVD player, games) can we bring along without being conspicuous or rude?

And finally, there will be another young relative there who is a great but very spirited and active child, and my daughter doesn't have a history of the best public behavior when they get together. The general sentiment among family lawmakers is that they are just so cute together and should hang out and support each other through the events, so I'm sure we will be thrown together quite a bit. I have no idea how I will manage this sort of thing, in a fancy restaurant context, with elders in attendance, without offending OtherChild's (very nice) parents by saying things like, "Now, I know OC did it, but that's not a polite way to behave in a restaurant," or "No, you can't run around the room with OC, you need to stay in your seat and watch Frozen." So if anybody has insights there, I'd love to hear 'em.

Any advice, particularly if you've managed similar situations before, would be much appreciated. (Or if it's gonna go fine, and I'm stressing about nothing, then please feel free to reassure me!) Thanks, Metafilter!
posted by Bardolph to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have been advised by the family that letting her stay home from one dinner with a babysitter will NOT be an option; nor will she be able to come in PJs/ have a separate room to relax in/ etc., as others have suggested.

Yeah, no. You are the child's parent. If your five year old cannot handle being at a fancy event (and what five year old could/should?) she should absolutely stay at the hotel with a babysitter.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:15 PM on August 17, 2014 [53 favorites]

It's going to be fine. Don't stress. Forget about schedules this weekend.

Yes, let her sleep in.

Daytime activities: Whatever you want to do.

When to eat: When you're hungry.

Yes, let her play with the other kid.

When correcting your child don't mention the other kid.

Yes to electronics. Reign her in if she gets rowdy and give her anything that will occupy her. A phone or tablet with earbuds are fine after dinner if you're lingering at the table.

Expect the best.
posted by Fairchild at 12:17 PM on August 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

You know your child and her limits better than anyone.

In the face of pressure for her to behave in ways that you know to be impossible for her, you have my permission for you and your child to leave the event. Bring a tote with pyjamas and evening ritual items (bedtime books, stuffed shark, whatever) and find a quiet spot.

Bedtime happens as late as you and she are comfortable with and wakeups happen when she wakes up.

Keep her well hydrated and be liberal with snack times. Mealtimes can happen on local time if free range vacation snacking works for your kid.

Good luck!!
posted by waterisfinite at 12:29 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

When your relatives are telling you that it's "not an option" to allow your very young child to sleep when she needs to, your relatives are at best being very selfish, and at worst bordering on abusive. It is your job as her parent to protect your child from all the people in the world who don't have her best interests at heart. If your family is going to put appearances over your kid's welfare, you need to draw a boundary.

"I'm sorry, but dinner at that time of night won't be possible for our family," is a perfectly reasonable response. Then, let them know what is possible for your family. "We'd love to see you for lunch and playtime in the afternoon when Daughter will be in a great mood," or "Daughter is really looking forward to the wedding, but we'll probably duck out right after dinner because it will be past her bedtime," or "I'll be at the rehearsal dinner, but Spouse will be staying at the hotel with Daughter because she will be asleep," are all very reasonable boundaries.

You can't control other people's emotions. They may get upset or angry or sad. But their feelings are not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to protect your daughter's health and happiness. Would you prefer that she remember this weekend as The Time I Was In A Wedding And I Ruined It Because I Was Sleepy And Then I Got Yelled At, or as The Time I Got To Be In A Wedding And It was So FUN Even Though Daddy Made Me Leave Before It Was Over? I think the latter is better. And if your relatives want to remember it as The Time When Bardolph Was A Hardass About Daughter's Bedtime, that's on them.
posted by decathecting at 12:39 PM on August 17, 2014 [38 favorites]

I have been advised by the family that letting her stay home from one dinner with a babysitter will NOT be an option

I don't understand this. Is that because there are no babysitters to be had, or because your family is crossing major boundaries and dictating how you parent your child? Based on the phrasing of your question it sounds like the latter. That is ridiculous - your first obligation is to your child, not the whims of bridezillas and overbearing family on a wedding weekend. They might notice if you aren't there, but they will definitely notice if you are there with a fussy child who desperately needs to sleep and ruins the party with an over-tired tantrum. Making a five year old stay up late three nights in a row at boring fancy parties sounds like torture to not only her, but to you, too. Go for a drink and an appetizer, and get the hell out of there.

If Daughter is starting to lose it, may I remove her from the table and take a long walk?

Yes, you should march her over to the family members who insist that she be at these dinners and tell them you need their assistance. I'm guessing that within about a nanosecond you'll get "permission" to get out of there.

If you seriously MUST take her, then I heartily second everything Fairchild wrote.
posted by gatorae at 12:43 PM on August 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have been advised by the family that letting her stay home from one dinner with a babysitter will NOT be an option

Do what is best for your child. It's your job to protect her, and part of that is protecting her from other people's unreasonable expectations.
posted by winna at 12:54 PM on August 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

I totally get the other child issue. The other child will wind up your child more, but will also be a bonus for time-killing and entertainment. BUT, it is okay to say that I need lil' bardolph to be with me for a while or re-direct. You just need to be super bland about it and make no value judgement - make it about having a little water, which is actually something that can get forgotten, a bathroom trip, a dance with daddy, a visit with relative A or B, whatever you need to do re-direct when the kids get too wild. And then after that you can say (again, very blandly) "oh, child is going to watch x now or do y, we'll catch up in a moment."

I am finding it very difficult not to comment on outside relatives dictating sleep and food schedules of your five-year-old, BUT I just went through this on a much smaller scale and I get how tough it is to push back. I suggest carrying snacks with you - sliced apples, and a little dish of peanut butter, crackers, even a thermos with water (oranges are also nice for travel, bananas are great but can get mushed up pretty easily, oh and cheese can be good) for when child is hungry, but no food is appearing. I recommend you pack whatever you/child likes, but for your sake and hers, not all chips and candy, you'll need some food that will sustain and help fill in the gaps left by less sleep. Also, will you have your own rental car? Can you excuse yourself and take child to car and drive around for a while if she is getting really tired and wound up? Listen to music she loves, maybe get a quick nap in, anything that works for you. You can leave with your child if that is what's best, you are the parent here.

Children are adaptable and 5-years-old is a help (vs. a 3-year-old), it might not be awful, but if it gets awful you can just excuse yourselves, no matter how much they insist little buttercup be there, they won't want her if she is screaming on the floor!
posted by dawg-proud at 1:19 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

What I would do is book a baby sitter for evening 2. If it sucks evening 1, you TELL A LIE (!) and say your daughter is sick so you got a baby sitter for her at the hotel. Then she gets to bed properly on evening 2 and has had enough sleep for the wedding day. If it doesn't suck evening 1 maybe cancel the sitter.
posted by Mistress at 4:36 PM on August 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have no idea how I will manage this sort of thing, in a fancy restaurant context, with elders in attendance, without offending OtherChild's (very nice) parents by saying things like, "Now, I know OC did it, but that's not a polite way to behave in a restaurant," or "No, you can't run around the room with OC, you need to stay in your seat and watch Frozen." So if anybody has insights there, I'd love to hear 'em.

Leave off the first part and lead with "sweetie, remember that in our family we show respect/are polite/be kind to others by sitting at the table/not throwing food/using an indoor voice". I have an inordinate amount of practice with this and while I am certain it does annoy other parents, those rules are important to us and it's important that we adhere to them. I try and make the reminders about us, and the ramifications of our behaviours ('running around can hurt other people'), and a lot of positive reinforcement rather than 'these are the rules obey them'.

Does always work but that's our method for dealing with radically disparate behaviours between families.

Old relatives often forget just how young the little ones are (and expect developmentally inappropriate behaviour) and just how difficult it can be for the little ones. So to them it's no big deal to go over bedtime by a few hours (and they've probably seen one night in isolation) and are being judgemental pains in the arses because of that. So you've got a few choices - no acclimatization and that first day let them see exactly what they're trying to create with nonsense rules (terrible for your kid and no fun for anyone), stick it out with increasing levels of intervention and discipline (no fun for anyone), or explain that what they're requiring is not at all okay and you'll have to adjust.

I'd be prepared for no school when she gets back though.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:46 PM on August 17, 2014

Get a babysitter for the 2nd night. And a hotel if you're staying in someone else's home.

This mom of a 3 year old is confused as to why you are letting others put crazy expectations your jet lagged family.

This doesn't sound physically healthy or particularly fun and celebratory. Make saner plans and stick to them.
posted by jbenben at 5:21 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

My advice is to remember that your daughter is a small human being, and not a party prop for the enjoyment of stodgy old relatives.

If I was someone's parent, and I was told her non-attendance is "not an option", I'd say screw that shit, ditch these lame-ass events, and find something better to do with my lovely daughter.
posted by wats at 6:01 PM on August 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

Are they seriously wanting your daughter to hang around when she's into Crazy Time? Honestly, at a wedding, the best parents are the ones who take their kids OUT when they need to. I think you're going to need to say, "Screw your saying no to this, little Jessica needs to hit the hay."
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:32 PM on August 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I completely understand the position you're in. I, too, have been expected to produce lifesize animatronic dolls for others' weddings, at all hours and in all weathers (the most memorable was 103 degrees not counting humidity, hottest day in decades, out in the full sun, standing at attention, one in a wool suit and the other in a polyester dress). There's only so much you can do to fulfill these bizarre Special Day fantasies.

Here's what I do: I draw boundaries. No, they cannot be dressed and ready and at the venue for photos at 2pm because if you want them to be sweet little angels at a 5pm ceremony they are going to have to be resting/playing/eating at 2pm. They will arrive at 4:30 and any photos they are to be in will wait until then. Or be after the ceremony.

You can draw a boundary, too: No, she cannot come to all 3 evening events. Since the wedding is the most important, that's the one she'll be at. You can also refuse to use a babysitter you don't know, and just stay with your daughter yourself, which is what I would do. I don't leave my kids with people I don't know, and in-laws/relatives can like it or talk about me behind my back (which is their favorite thing ever anyway so it's like I've done them a favor).

As a mother, there are just instances when you've got to put the weight on you. She's too young for what they want from her, so you have to deny it to them and be blamed.
posted by palliser at 7:33 PM on August 17, 2014 [12 favorites]

Mother of a 5 year old here. Relax. Keep the daytime as relaxed as possible and feed her well to keep kid as chill as possible for these evening events. Kids are surprisingly good at rolling with bedtime changes at this age. Have an iPad on hand, order Mac and cheese for her to arrive right away at dinner.
You could totally say to in-laws 'you know, Brad and I don't get to go out much and we don't get to spend a lot of time with you all. We would have a lot more fun at the wedding weekend if we could have Maddie stay with a sitter for the rehearsal dinner and whatever (or at 7pm at the reception, so we can dance and drink without worrying about Maddie).
posted by k8t at 10:17 PM on August 17, 2014

And no one will care if she is on her iPad under the table or quietly coloring. People prefer a quiet occupied child at such dinners to almost everything else.
posted by k8t at 4:41 AM on August 18, 2014

How important is it, really, that your daughter goes to school on Thursday and Monday morning? Can she take a sick day? (or is that all tangled up with your own vacation day scheduling since you'd need to stay home with her?)

(note, I'm still agreeing with previous posters that your relatives are being less-than-reasonable, not saying all the flexibility should have to be on your part; but if you could create some flexibility, it might help you and your daughter.)
posted by aimedwander at 7:19 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I totally understand the stressfulness of the situation and also the sentiment of many commenters about putting your child first. As someone with a cultural background that makes family obligations a priority and responsibility, though, I've been in similar positions before, and understand the potential for offending people by not making the right effort. I think you'll be fine. Five years old is a good age; children that age are much more flexible than they were even a year or two earlier. And remember, they are not fragile little flowers, so it's not a question of protection or health. It's only three days. That being said, there will be a limit to her ability to keep it together, and people will just have to accept it. I've found that it's the effort that counts in these situations; people generally know not to expect the best behavior from a five year old, especially at 930 at night. The important part is that you all showed up and tried to make the most of it. If you have to leave right after dinner because she's clearly not in the right frame of mind, but you went in intending (or at least appearing to intend) to stay longer, I think you've fulfilled your obligation and most would understand.

You should definitely make sure she gets a nap during the day, preferably later in the day. Snacks will be necessary given the time difference; you may just want to feed her dinner at dinner time (home time), although that makes dinner
(destination time) harder. You should absolutely feel free to remove her and go outside or go for a walk if she's not behaving well at the dinners or with her buddy. And if she's falling asleep, don't keep her up and don't let others try to keep her up; throw her on your shoulder or use it as the opportunity to duck out. (I suspect she'll be able to stay up relatively later, though, with all the excitement/novelty around her. Also, many kids, especially at five, relish the opportunity to stay up past bedtime.)

Good luck. I know it will be stressful, so hopefully it actually turns out pretty well. The nice thing about family events is that there are many people willing and able to help distract your kids, so feel free to let auntie or uncle whisk her away for a few minutes. Try to enjoy a glass of wine or two at each of the dinners! Also, consider it an opportunity to teach her about family and culture and manners and self control.

Lastly, a personal anecdote. My son participated in a close relative's wedding when he was 4-ish. He didn't exactly do what he was supposed to do. But he tried, and he looked cute doing it, and he was a happy kid through the whole wedding, so no harm no foul. Also, he thought the wedding was the greatest thing he'd ever experienced, even though he was absolutely exhausted by the end (he couldn't stop talking about it afterwards and kept asking to go to other weddings) so I'm glad he was able to go.
posted by odin53 at 7:22 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

This will probably be too late, but:

I'd talk to her before the trip- explain that this is a fancy, important, grown up event for your family and everyone will have to make some adjustments and sacrifices for the celebration. Try to identify what parts of the event will be unpleasant for her- scratchy clothing, remaining at the table, listening to boring people talk- and let her know about them in advance. Try to make it sound exciting as well as challenging. Treat it as something you are all lucky to be taking part in. Five year olds get really excited about having a little bit of responsibility, use that to your advantage.

Bring a book and some comfort items to the meals. If she starts to freak out remove her from the table and calm her down. If she's really having a meltdown just lie and say she's puking, then take her back to the hotel.
I wouldn't worry too much about her getting whacky from exhaustion. It seems that the relatives find the behavior amusing, not disruptive. It won't be fun for you, but it won't be harmful to her.

Don't try to argue with anyone about what your child can or can't do. No one really cares, and you are just going to start unnecessary drama. Realize this is someone's big day, they have lofty expectations, and because family is important you are giving it your best shot.

If your kid can't make it through the meals, oh well. I'm sure they have seen kids lose their shit before, and I'm sure other relatives have taken their kids home early during family functions.
posted by feelingcold at 2:02 PM on August 25, 2014

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