Culinary Academy at the Pelican Hill Resort

By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Media Services

We moms all know the dirty little secret of family vacations.

No, I’m not talking about the piles of laundry when we get home, though that’s certainly no fun. I’m talking about how moms whisper on the beach, around the pool and on line at theme parks that family vacations are really no vacations at all for them, especially when young kids are part of the equation.

“Many moms say they need a vacation after the vacation,” says Suzy Stauffer, founder of , an online support network for moms. “Moms need a break for sure!”

“It’s a lovely vacation for everyone … but me,” Jenn Belden, a mom of a young son and daughter, wrote in an email about her family’s annual trip to the Outer Banks. “I still cook, wash up, do laundry, shop for groceries, often for extended family. …There is no rest!”

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And on vacation, just like at home, guess who is mediating squabbles, planning activities, navigating unfamiliar turf, keeping kids safe, searching for that missing bathing suit top, a washing machine or new batteries, treating minor illnesses and injuries and making sure there’s enough milk for breakfast. (Whenever possible, I go for a condo with a washer or a wash-and-fold place.) I can tell you from personal experience, moms are concierge and activity planner whether the kids are three, 13 or 23.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not taking anything away from dads who do their share and then some on vacation — including my own husband who likes nothing more than whipping up a big breakfast for the gang at a vacation condo or cabin and then leading them all on some expedition. It’s just that moms typically are the planners, the packers — and the worriers. Still, a lot of moms will agree that those rare isn’t-life-with-these-kids-wonderful moments on vacation are worth the effort — as long as you’re not too tired to enjoy them. “Enjoy seeing the trip through the kids eyes,” says Suzy Stuffer, “and then plan a Mom-only trip as a reward for all of your hard work!”

Certainly there are plenty of Mom trips to choose from. I’ve got one planned to Provincetown on Cape Cod ( ) with my three oldest friends. We’re staying at a B&B that doesn’t welcome young children.

You can opt for a well priced ($215 for two) “Sex and the Big Apple Core” package ( ) that includes hotel, passes to a “Sex & the City” Tour and a DVD of the first movie. The Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay ( ) just introduced a girlfriends’ getaway where you can even borrow yoga mats for in-room yoga. The package comes complete with spa privileges and food credits. The Marquis los Cabos ( ) promises complimentary mani-pedis and “anti-aging breakfast and a spa scrub during the month of May while Adventures in Good Company ( ) arranges women-only adventure trips.

That’s not to say a family vacation can’t be enjoyable for mom too — at least part of the time. Ithaca, N.Y., dad Bruce Stoff emailed me that “a little break goes a long way on vacation,” — at least it did when he took his daughter to the Smithsonian for an hour while his wife “relaxed amid the Renoirs” at the National Gallery.

“Plan for a break for mom, suggests Allison Valdes, Georgia resident and the mom of two boys, including one with special challenges. Valdes is such an expert on trips to Walt Disney World that she is a member of the Disney Moms Panel ( ). “It is always understood that when we visit Orlando, I get at least half a day to go to Downtown Disney by myself and no one gets upset because they know in advance I’m doing it. I get my mommy break having a little less guilt.”

It can help — especially single moms– to invite grandparents or extended family along — assuming that won’t cause you more stress. Nancy Schretter, founder of  adds that you’re also guaranteed a break if you take a vacation with a family with kids close to the same age as yours — and agree ahead of time to share some babysitting. Share a condo and you’ll cut vacation costs significantly too. (Check Websites like  and .)

Bring your favorite sitter — or niece or nephew and let them chase the toddlers down the beach and sit in the room while the baby naps, moms suggest. Hire a sitter for a few hours each day. At the very least, look for a place that has a terrace or balcony to hang out on while the children nap or are down for the night, adds Corinne McDermott, founder of , which includes an online store for baby travel gear.

Then there are the all-inclusives — cruise lines — some like Disney and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas even have nurseries at sea– and resorts like Beaches ( ) Club Med ( ) and others that schedule age-appropriate programming from morning till night. The Bahamas megaresort Atlantis ( is even offering special Lego Camps this summer and The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, Calif., ( ) offers a new Summer Culinary Academy for parents, while kids are entertained in Camp Pelican. If your kids love horses or the outdoors, consider a dude ranch like Vista Verde Ranch in Steamboat Springs, Colo., ( ) where we spent a blissful few days or try out a family camp. (Search the American Camp Association Website at .)

Be forewarned that you may get more of a break than you bargained for if your kids — especially tweens and teens — prefer the organized activities to hanging out with you. Or you may not get a break at all if the kids balk at participating– the preschooler uncomfortable in unfamiliar turf, the grade-schooler who thinks the activities, no matter how spectacular, are “lame.”

At the very least, let the kids (and dad) be in charge of a couple of meals — from shopping to cooking to cleaning up — and create an itinerary that includes some “mom” time. Can you think of a better Mother’s Day present?

Most important, let go of the guilt! It’s your vacation too.

Happy Mother’s Day.