Photo Credit: Jewish Press

As a child, I loved the movie “Home Alone.” I fantasized about how I would behave if I were left behind while my family was on vacation. Little did I know that as an adult, I would be arranging for my own children to be left at home, while hoping to avoid any of Kevin’s shenanigans.

I am a huge proponent of spending quality time with your spouse, as the benefits of strengthening your relationship are huge and long-lasting. Weekly date nights are a great way to obtain that; and overnights are even better. As my husband is a points-guy, and is able to get us great flights and hotels at incredible locations around the world, we take a couple of trips every year without our children.

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When our children were very young, it was too much to ask family members to take them. Instead, I hired a babysitter to move into the house, which was efficient, but quite expensive – sometimes as much as all of our other trip costs combined. When they got older, they were able to bunk up with cousins and had a long sleepover, which was fun for everyone. Now that they are at the pre-teen stage, extended sleepovers are less appealing, as they have homework they want to do in peace and quiet, they want to be able to sleep in their own beds, wear the clothing they want to, and have access to their own kitchen.

After a long period of my children begging to be allowed to stay home, I decided that they could, as long as my older niece stays with them. Here’s how we did it, and with these tips, so can you!

  1. You need to know your kids. Kids who are generally organized and responsible will do better then kids who need to be dragged out of bed in the morning or need extra supervision to do their homework. However, if your children usually do what has to be done with minimal reminders, they can be trusted to keep to a schedule when you are gone.
  1. To test the waters, start small and stay nearby so that if the experience is a disaster, you can come home quickly. Our trial run was staying overnight in a hotel near the airport. It was the perfect first try – our kids managed without a single hiccup. With that short success under our belt, we were willing to try going a little further.
  1. Plan your trip for when your children are most scheduled. As the famous saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Your children will do best when they are busy with school, homework, and afterschool activities and don’t have time to get bored and find less productive and more worrisome things to do with their time. Don’t forget to arrange for carpool if necessary for any of the activities.
  1. Along with the supervision of an older teen, it is wise to ask a neighbor or a relative to check up on them on a regular basis. This is especially crucial if there is bad weather and you want to make sure that the power is on, and the children have everything they need.
  1. However, even with the support of another trusting adult, make sure that you have access to a phone. This way you can schedule daily phone calls with your children to see how everything is going. Prior to your departure, set a designated time for the call. There is nothing more conducive to worry than not being able to reach your children. I would recommend the children call you in the morning, before they leave for school, and once they get home. This way, you know they went to school and when they are safely back in the house.
  1. For Shabbos, keep it simple and have them go out to nearby friends for the meals. This keeps the house clean and avoids having appliances on over Shabbos. Needless to say, don’t allow your children to invite other friends over, as the bigger the crowd, the less control there will be.
  1. A wise woman once told me to act as if you trust your children, but don’t trust them. This means take away all access to screens, both big and little. I’m sure you can guess what they can get with unlimited access to Internet and social media. If you want them to be able to send you a video call, you can arrange for the same neighbor or relative to lend your children her phone for a video chat or two.
  1. To make sure everything goes along as scheduled, you need to have a prepared house. The house should be cleaned, and the pantry stocked, leaving as little as possible for the children to do. For daily clean up and dinners create a clear schedule of who will do what at which time. You might ask how you can get your children to do these chores and homework if you are not around to enforce the rules. The answer is very simple: bribe them! I bribe my kids with dinner out. This kills two birds with one stone; it cuts down on dinner preparation, cleanup and shopping, along with giving them a fun motivation. I leave my niece with cash, and if everything goes as planned, the kids can pick a place to go for dinner. If things are not going smoothly, then they can eat pasta.
  1. However, there is always the possibility that the situation can get more than a little bit hairy. In that case, have a backup plan of either a mature adult who can move into your house, or someone who can come get your kids.

Then, next year, you can try again. Happy travel!

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Pnina Baim is the author of the Young Adult novels, Choices, A Life Worth Living (featured on Dansdeals and Jew In The City) and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, Sing While You Work. The books are available at amazon.com. Pnina is available for speaking engagements and personal consulting. Contact her at pninabaim@gmail.com.