It was 2 a.m. and I was crying. It wasn’t just me either. My
5-month-old and my 3-year-old were also crying. We were tired, and that was
putting it mildly. We had just traveled half way across the world to
Switzerland to visit friends. It would be the first stop on our five-week
adventure around Europe. And it was the worst
night of my life.
Jet lag may be the number one deterrent for parents who want
to travel abroad, or even across the country, with their kids. Anyone who has
ever traveled knows that it messes up your sleep schedule, can make you cranky
and also screw up your appetite. There is no exception to this when it comes to
kids, especially babies and toddlers.
My first night in Switzerland, after almost 20 hours of
travel with a baby and a toddler, was about as close to parenting hell as you
can get. I learned a lot that night as we huddled in my friend’s guest room, desperately trying to not wake up her own little girl in the room down the
hall. Here is what I picked up during those wee hours of the morning.
1. Eat something
The reason we were all up at 2 a.m. is because my children’s
bodies were telling them that they had missed a meal, probably dinner, at some
point during our travels. We were on a nine-hour time difference. Although we
arrived exhausted, their bodies told them it was time to eat. My toddler had a
bowl of cereal, while the baby got some extra nursing that night. You can’t
fight it. You need to listen to your children’s bodies. No matter how much you
tell them to go back to sleep, if they are hungry, you need to feed them, even
if it means you have to get out of a warm bed to do it.
2. TV is your friend
My toddler had slept only a few hours on our night flight to
Switzerland. This wasn’t good for anyone, especially mom, but there is only so
much you can do when you are on route. When both of my boys were up in the
middle of the night, I grabbed some food and popped on a Curious George DVD. I lay
down on the floor with the baby to let him kick and squirm like he wanted to
while my toddler was quietly entertained. I let this go on for about an hour or
two before we tried to go back to bed. That hour or two was what everyone
needed to remind their bodies that it wasn’t quite time to be up yet.
Everyone was up the next morning by 8 a.m. The sun coming in
through the curtains was all my boys needed to reset their clocks. We would all
have to take a nap that day, but we were on the right track.
Kids are more resilient than we give them credit for and they can bounce back from jet lag faster than us.
3. Get into a routine
Plenty of parents will tell you how they handle jet lag, and
there really is no one perfect way to approach it. Every child is different,
just like every parent is different. Some parents will tell you to start putting
your kids to bed early before you even leave on your trip. This has never
worked for me. My children are up with the sun and back down with it.
International travel also does a number on your body clock no matter how much
you try to prepare for it.
For my kids, we simply face that first night and get through
it as best we can. The following morning I make sure everyone is up at a
reasonable hour so we don’t sleep in too much, although I can’t always stop the
kids from getting up too early. Every day I get us into our normal routine a
little more. The younger my children were the faster they acclimated to the
local time zone. Their bodies naturally synced, so much so that I was still
trying to figure out which way was up when they were figuring out that they
should be in bed by 7 p.m. wherever we were in the world.
4. You’ll survive
If you haven’t figured it out by now, kids are pretty
amazing. They are more resilient than we give them credit for and they can
bounce back from jet lag faster than us. Maybe we are more afraid of our own
jet lag than our kids, and that is why so many people won’t cross time zones
until their children are older?
Obviously I survived that first night in Switzerland. It was
brutal, and honestly, I’ve blocked a lot of it from my mind, but I can say
this. We were gone for 33 days. Thirty-two of them were incredible. One of them
was what fills my nightmares when it comes to traveling with kids. If I have to
have one bad night in Europe to experience 32 awesome ones, you better believe
it is worth every second of crying at 2 a.m.