Surviving Water Life With Kids In Tow


Face it:  whether you visit a family or friend’s cabin once a summer, own your own lake home or live as river rats – staying sane and enjoying life on the water with kiddos takes work and compromise. 

For more than a decade, my husband and I have savored “us time” on the Alexandria Chain of Lakes … kid-free … until June of 2017. 

Last summer was easy. Gordon spent a lot of time on his tummy not moving very far and snuggled into my chest. I slept when he slept. He went where I went. It was slow going and quite relaxing.  

Now, he’s on-the-move … touching, grabbing and tasting everything. Laughing, flirting and meeting everyone. He requires our full-attention and I can’t help but think:  how will we do cabin life with a wobbly, busy toddler? 


First, I’ve accepted that cabin life is different with kids. I can’t just lay on a raft all day and tip back a Mikes Light whenever I want. And that’s okay!

I also asked ten moms, “what advice do you have for enjoying water life (or cabin or river life) with kids?” and they shared 15 ways – all which I plan to practice this summer!

  • Wear the life jacket. Learn your life preserver options (Types I, II, III, IV, V) and enforce the rule. Life jackets save lives. Leave the littles in their life vests all day so you don’t have to hover around them. Have several floaties in the water at all times – noodles, inner tubes, kick boards, water mats … they give kids something to reach for if they get nervous. Establish the “how deep is too deep” and prop your lawn chair in the water while you watch them. Make sure they know water is off limits without an adult nearby.
  • Sign up for swimming lessons and a lot of them! Acclimate your child to water at a young age – some facilities accept children as young as 6 months old! Its always good to know that s/he feels safe and confident when s/he’s in and near water.
  • Don’t overpack. You may think babies need everything and the kitchen sink. But, plastic cups, bowls and stroller tires become traveling toys … and exploring the colors, sounds and textures of nature will entertain your baby more than boring toys. Of course, pack the essentials (food, wipes, diapers, favorite blankie, etc.) — but its cabin life. Keep the adorable, don’t- want- to- ruin attire back home and simplify packing. That said, a sound machine and video monitor(s) can be helpful during nap time!
  • Think indoor activities. For those stormy, chilly and muddy days when outside is off limits – make sure you have games, cards, books, art projects and crossword puzzles to entertain kiddos inside. Or, go bowling, visit the children’s museum, watch a movie or hit up an indoor water park. Minnesota summer weather is not always perfect. Plan for it.
  • Try new foods, eat outside and think ahead. The cabin is a great place to taste not just s’mores and Red Vines, but fish, exotic fruit and fun veggies. Then when you go home, you can say:  remember when we had this at the lake, and you liked it? Snacks and meals outside save a lot of cleanup time and sanity. Stock up on extras (paper products, snacks, toiletries) at the beginning of the summer and meal plan ahead of time. Run all of your errands the day before you leave and prep your produce the first morning of vacation so everything is on-hand for quick snacks and lunches.

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  • Talk up the trip and give them a job. On your drive up (or down), have the conversation of “we have to wear our lifejacket”, and “Mommy is going to put on sunscreen; can you help me remember?” See if you can find special job for your kiddos that’s unique to cabin life. For example, they can “real in” Grandpa’s boat when they see him trolling in, or stack logs for the next camp fire.
  • Lather on the sunscreen! Apply it faithfully and frequently! Little kids and big kids. Consider applying sun block indoors while the littles change into their swim suits and before you go anywhere. Make it routine so you’re not wrestling a toddler when you arrive at the neighbors or get down to the dock. If you’re outside with kids under one – stay in the shade, grab UPF blankets, hats and long sleeved lightweight clothing.
  • Story-tell. Visit with your children about why this place is so important. Whether it’s because Daddy loves the water or Grandma showed Mommy how to make her special cake here … the fun comes because of the memories passed down. Keep your tradition alive and share many stories.
  • Let kids explore. Roasting hot dogs in a campfire, eating burnt marshmallows, picking up worms, catching frogs and taking fish off the hook are all fun. Let them get their hands dirty. Just make sure you have wet wipes along the way! Worried they’re going to get hurt? Kids are smarter than we think. Let them ride their bike into a tree once; they likely won’t do it again!
  • Say “hello.” Re-introduce your kids to your neighbors — tell them their names and where they live in case of an emergency. You may know your friends for years, but to young ones, it’s been six long months since they’ve seen them and you can’t expect them to remember faces and names.

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  • Disrupt or maintain your routine. It’s going to happen at the lake … It’s OK to go to bed late and miss a nap. It’s OK to eat ice cream before dinner and it’s OK to to skip regular story time. Just know what you’re getting into. If you let your kids have a giant free-for-all during the weekend, you will pay for it on Monday. Be consistent so you’re predictable for your children, but flexible to stay sane. Plan car rides and walks around naps and quite time. Avoid napping a toddler or preschooler at someone else’s house – it rarely works. You may arrive to an event late or leave early, but that’s the compromise of traveling with small children.
  • Build in “YOU” time. Whether that’s an early morning cup of coffee, glass of wine at night, an afternoon massage, round of golf or a 3 mile run – sneak away and do what you need to do for some R&R. Maybe its sleeping in, stargazing at night or taking an afternoon nap in a hammock. Build in some quality you time, guilt-free! And enjoy it!
  • Put down your phone and communicate. Unless you are taking photos or video, stash away your phone and pay attention. Never assume Grandma, Auntie, Uncle, or even Mom or Dad has an eye on your babe. If you need to leave, make sure you do a verbal handoff to let them know they are in charge.
  • Stay hydrated. Big kids and little kids. Adults, too. Have labeled sippy cups and bottles of water readily available. Offer it frequently and make sure everyone’s tipping back hydrating fluids throughout the day to avoid the headaches, tummy aches and fussy children.
  • Share responsibilities. When partners offer to help, let them! Or, if family wants to pitch in, welcome it. When duties are shared and balanced, time away is more relaxing for everyone!

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Mommas, we have 13 summer weekends in Minnesota. Let’s enjoy them all – with or without kids! Take in the rarity of the cabin weekend because next year when you come, your littles will be different and so will you. 

I’d love to know what other tips you use to enjoy water life with kids on-board. Share by commenting below and let the cabin season begin!

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Marnie and her husband, Brent — Minnesota natives and high school sweethearts — call Rochester home with their two boys, Gordon (born June 2017) and Crosby (born July 2019). A stay-at-home Mom, Marnie finds herself babbling, giggling and singing like a baby all while teaching her sons how to grow. To stay sharp and connected, Marnie freelances for marketing communication services where she exercises her brain in new ways. A passionate do-it-yourselfer, she finds herself behind a pair of safety goggles, prepping for wood, tile and art projects. Marnie loves designing spaces and shopping for home decor and her pantry is full of homemade canned goods. Her happy place? Up North at their family cabin on Lake Carlos near Alexandria.