Parenting conundrum

Quick setup… My wife and I live in Chicago. I have a ten year old son from a previous marriage who lives with his Mom a majority of the time in another state, about 6 hours west. My second wife and I have a four year old daughter together here.

In planning vacations where we would be wanting to bring children with us, such as a long weekend in NYC or Washington DC (east of us), the logistics of picking up and returning my son to his mom in order for him to join us is quite prohibitive (he doesn’t fly on his own yet, no train service between cities… Only choice is for us to drive to pick him up at a midway point.) The extra time and difficulty spent in picking him up and taking him back means that we are less able to take these kinds of vacations. A 3 day weekend turns into a 5 day process.

If you were in our shoes, would you take these smaller trips with the daughter only with annual or semi-annual bigger full-family trips that include my son, or would you only take the bigger trips as to not leave the other kid out of the travel experiences.

It’s important to me that I not make my first child feel left out of this family - but the truth is I don’t know if it’s fair to our daughter, or us, to limit our experiences. I didn’t travel much as a kid and I wish I had been able to see as much of the world as possible.

Could you maybe plan the shorter trips to locations between where you live and where you son is until he’s a little older? If you meet at a halfway point, you could still hit anywhere within a few hours radius of wherever that may be…or if his mother is willing to drive three hours in any direction, that would expand your possible destinations…

Unfair to a 4 year old to not fly her to NYC or DC, depriving her of the cultural experiences only those locations can deliver?

By the time your 4 year old is able to appreciate those destinations, your 10 year old will be old enough to fly on his own. Hell, he may have his own job and home by that time.

If your 4 year old needs more culture, Chicago has a lot to offer…

Without knowing the situation, on the very surface your “it’s not fair to our daughter or us” says what you really want to do. Your son is 6 hours away and doesn’t see you often as your daughter sees you. How does he feel about that? Does he already feel left out?

As I see it:
Have him fly solo (they have traveling programs for children flying alone).
If you are not ok with that, in a few short years he will be able to fly solo and you can do yearly things then.

As a mom with a 7 year old she is just now appreciating travel (we travel together a lot). The trips I made with her at 4 years old are very vague memories. The trip to Disney then was really more for me to enjoy her reaction to seeing Pocahontas, etc.
She enjoyed for sure but really no more or less than a trip down the road to 6 flags.

I just can’t see how doing MORE with your daughter and wife will not be viewed as unfair by him.

This isn’t a “need answer fast” kind of question… Just looking ahead into the next few years.

He’s in Des Moines, unfortunately. It’s pretty much 5-6 hours away from everything.

We’ve done a lot of more local mini-vacations - I’m thinking more about trips requiring air travel in order to make it worthwhile for a short trip.

Even if he flew here first, that would still add time, money, and logistical complications that would force us to limit the number of trips.

I realize my question seems to boil down to “give me permission to not feel guilty for this thing I feel guilty about” but I really do feel torn. Wondering if any dopers have experience with type of situation. Am I overthinking it?

Great post, thank you.

Well, he’s 10 now. When will he be able to fly alone? I wouldn’t find it unusual for a 12-year-old to be trusted to fly alone. Heck, I think my 9-year-old son could probably handle it, if he were sufficiently prepared. So if the issue of him not being able to fly alone is one of the major sticking points, it seems like that will stop being a problem in fairly short order.

That said, do you get to see your son on a regular basis anyway? I mean, it seems that if he’s going to be staying with you anyway sometimes, that would be the time to plan these little 3-day getaways, because you won’t have to deal with the logistics of getting him there specifically for the short trip; he’ll be there anyway. If you don’t see him on a regular basis, I’d solve that problem first instead of worrying about bringing him along on vacation trips. Speaking as the child of divorced parents, some of my favorite memories with my dad (my non-custodial parent) weren’t of when he took me to the zoo or on vacation, but rather just hanging out at his house on the weekends watching TV together and eating junk food or whatever.

My SO’s daughter is now 13 but she has been flying solo for years. The parent gets a gate pass to put her on and the parent picking up gets a gate pass to be there when she gets off. You know your son better than I, but he’s probably old enough to do this. Now, if the air fare is a problem I understand that completely.

It’s ok to do a couple things when he can’t come, but don’t make a habit of it, and I would stay away from getting into the idea of “well, we’d do it but we can’t because of Other Kid” - that will breed resentment with your wife and daughter.

Is it possible that you let the grands keep the 4 y/o and make some of these long weekends couple time, and save the family vacations for times when it’s convenient for everyone?

I do understand - I have two boys that live with us, one of whom visits “other family”. We also have his daughter who lives far away. It’s a constant juggle of trying to make sure no one is left out and minimizing guilt. At some point you have to realize that (1) they will grow up and you’ll have lots of time later you can wish you had let it be a lot of trouble to get everyone together and (2) you will probably feel like someone is being shorted a lot and you learn to balance best you can and live with it. Maybe take a short vacation with boy only to make up for it?

Maybe a “man to man” (as my nephew calls them) trip? Just the both of you on a trip or camping.

I don’t think there is any way to be taking one child on fabulous vacations to exotic places while leaving the other child out without building up some resentment. I’m also not 100% sold on your explanations- It sounds to me like this is you wanting to take nice vacations with your new family, and dealing with this 10 year old is kind of a drag on that, and it’d be sooooo much easier not to have to deal with it.

Unfortunately, I don’t see a really fair way to do that. I know I’d get resentful pretty quickly if I had a sibling who was doing all this great stuff while I was sitting at home.

What I would do is keep vacations either all the kids or just your wife and you (is a 4 year old really going to get much out of DC?) for the moment and have some occasional local trips (camping and the like) with both kids. I don’t think the daughter will be “missing out” on being able to travel until she is at least 8 or. Younger than that, and it’s all kind of a blur, and there really isn’t much reason to go too far.

By the time the 4 year old is old enough to get anything out of larger trips, the 10 year old will be old enough to do some really cool things, and you can do a few smaller trips with your daughter and wife (DC and NYC) balanced out by something really cool with your just you and your son. Maybe you can sell him on looking forward to a big trip (maybe international?) when he is 13 or so…just the two of you. He’d feel special, you’d both get a fun travel experience, and he’d probably enjoy it more than feeling like he’s tagging along.

And of course by the time the 4 year old is old enough to do these kinds of things, the 10 year old will be out of the house. If you can help him take a solo backpacking trip to Europe when he graduates high school, he’ll love you forever.

Everyone wins!

I thought family vacations are supposed to be about famililes? He’s your son. I’m sure he already feels left out. So you do a different vacation instead of NYC. Your daughter is FOUR. She’ll be fine. It sounds like you want us to smooth over your guilt feelings. I’m also speaking as a mother and as a daughter who was often left out of the ‘other family’ : Don’t be a jerk. It’s just going to come off that way, so find an alternative. If you don’t see your son that often, what happens if you do this arrangment? See him even less? Have even less fun because you’re not ‘on vacation’?

The DSM airport flies to Chicago every day (like most), with United having flights three times a day at least. So figure it out.

Are you sure he’s too young? I’ve seen kids much younger than ten flying alone. Hell, when I was nine my mother put me on a Greyhound bus to see my grandmother. From Atlanta to Chicago. A bazilion stops along the way. And this was during the 80s, when child molesters were raping Gary Coleman on TV and everything!

I also don’t think a four-year-old is going to really get much on destination vacations. If we took any vacations when I was that young, I have no memory of it.

If it’s really that inconvenient, you can always have just “you-and-him” vacations. If you’ve got a big trip to DC in the summer and you just can’t find fit in your schedule, then make it up by taking him somewhere else later in the year.

Or just wait till a year. Unless he’s special needs, I really can’t see why he wouldn’t be able to travel alone then. That’s middle school.

I wouldn’t bother with those kind of vacations until the kids were at least in their teens. Since your two children are a little far apart in age you could stop thinking of all trips having to include everyone. My two children are 5 years apart and while we took the basic family trips that were fun for their age their dad took each of the boys on individual trips that were more memorable for older boys, when they were the right age.

So, when your son is 12 or 13 you can take him on a trip that the little girl would hate, she can have a special trip with her mom at the same time. Then when the girl is older you can take everyone, then when the son is too old and busy with work and school the girl will go on some trips without him. So, each child will have the same basic number of trips.

And the extra 2 days to include your son? Too bad, you have to do it. Think of it as special alone driving time that you get to share with him. Some of our best family time has been in the car because the kids can’t go play with friends or watch tv. Each of the boys has been on a car trip alone with me and it was wonderful both times.

I can only remember a couple of times in my childhood when I was anywhere–car or otherwise–with either parent all by myself. I can’t remember a single time when I was with both parents all by myself.

You can’t have too many of those kinds of moments, IMHO.

Thanks for the input everybody.

As I said upthread, it’s not something that is really relevant at any time soon. I was thinking more down the road when our daughter is a little older and he’s in his early teens by then.

He’s not flying by himself yet but I think he’s close to being there. He has pretty severe ADHD which makes him a bit more immature than other kids his age and he needs/wants/demands a lot of attention. I think he’s about ready to begin traveling by himself though.

I do see him fairly regularly and he also spends long stretches with us here in Chicago during his school breaks. Growing up, he’s gotten to see just about everything a kid could want to see here in Chicago (including a million things that probably bored him to tears). We also get up to Six Flags quite a bit with the whole family. Just saying that yes, we do already do a lot of great family stuff together and plan to continue doing so in the future.

I agree with everyone that sat that it’s not fair to him to take any really cool trips with our daughter and not him. That was my original feeling on the matter and I just wanted some reassurance that I wasn’t overthinking it.

That said, I also really like the idea of him and I taking one-on-one vacations sometime.That 's a really great suggestion.

I flew alone from Arizona to Pennsylvania when I was 12 to visit MY dad. If I could do that your kid could probably fly to you from six hours away.