Carolyn Hax: Lax grandparents want to take 5-year-old on vacation

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My parents want to take my 5-year-old son on a vacation with them. This would be at least partly to give me and my husband a break (we also have 2-year-old twins), so we would stay behind.

I would really love to just say yes, but I am struggling with the idea of ​​their being in charge for five to seven days straight. They would never knowingly put my son in danger, but they are typical grandparents, meaning they do not enforce rules. He can eat whatever he wants, stay up as late as he wants, refuse to follow directions, no limits on screen time (amount or content). All of that is okay for even the occasional overnight, but I get very anxious thinking about a whole week where he is 500 miles away being indulged the whole time. (And we are not that strict — for example, we follow the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on screen time.) Also, they might say they are going to enforce certain rules but then don’t. He once came home without having brushed his teeth.

But saying no might deny three people I love a really lovely experience together.

Do I need to just relax and say yes? Is there a way not to feel like a negligent parent?

Anxious: If I were confident he’d be safe, then I’d do it. The difference between a junk-food overnight and a week of junk food won’t have a meaningful effect — whereas the effect of grandparent bonding can be lifelong.

That said, failing to limit screen content does open the door to harm, by degrees, so weigh that risk and your options for minimizing it, if any.

Plus his reentry into your rule structure promises to be exquisitely hellish — but that’s more irritating than harmful, and the going price for dramatic breaks in a little kid’s routine.

Oh-by-the-way side note: A visit of five to seven days is long enough for the grandparents to reap the whirlwind of the wind they sow with indulgence. That introduces some variables to consider: Maybe they won’t be quite as soft over a longer stretch? Maybe they’ll lose their cool on him if he starts acting out? Or park him in front of the TV? You know them best so I’ll leave that calculation to you.

· My grandparents took me on a four-day vacation when I was 9. The first day was just like always — indulgent. But then, day two rolled around and, suddenly, there were rules and talking-to sit-downs and the like. I was somehow old enough to recognize this was why my mom didn’t do some of the things her parents did.

· Yes, you need to relax, and the child’s trip can actually help with that. Not brushing his teeth for a week isn’t going to cause gum disease. Staying up late isn’t going to change his metabolism. He’ll have a great time (hopefully), remember it for years as something wonderful, and you’ll learn the sky isn’t going to fall if the rules aren’t followed for short periods of time.

It’s also a good lesson in “different house, different rules.” Kids need to know where the limits are, and to stay within different limits in different situations.

With the same caveat as Carolyn’s, this could be one of the best gifts you could give yourself if you are feeling this anxious about a few days with different (or no) rules.

· How will your son feel about being away from you for that long? Some kids are fine … some not so much.