We just got back from vacationing with our kids and my parents, and not only did we live to tell the tale, we’re doing it with a smile. Why? Because we finally figured out how to make multigenerational travel work for us rather than against us — we learned to get some real quality into our quality time together.
What’s the secret? Honestly, I think it was that we found a balance of togetherness vs. space. I know that people talk about this all the time when discussing group travel, but it was like we hit that sweet spot and all was well with the world. We had a very carefully planned itinerary: parents, grandparents and kids all involved on some days; grandparents and kids in one direction and parents in another on some days; parents and kids occasionally — because grandparent kid duty is one of the biggest perks of traveling together — and everyone on their own sometimes.
Wait, what? That’s crazy — you have an 8-year-old! Yes, we do. And let me tell you, the kids’ club is a glorious invention. I used to think that it was shirking parental duty. But both this kid and the near-teenager asked to go almost every day. They had a chance to make friends and be with kids their age — and get a break from each other — and we could have some all-adults time.
Being able to talk, enjoy a glass of wine and relax without interruption did wonders for the adult members of the group. My mom and I got time to interact as peers rather than navigating the waters of parent and grandparent. My stepdad could even hear what I was saying since I wasn’t trying to shout over the kids. Amazing!
We also allowed for some measure of democracy in setting the pace and the agenda. The kids weighed in on what they wanted to see and what they wanted to skip; we did the same, and so did the grands. It involved a hefty amount of negotiation, like, “I’ll do the museum if you’ll agree that we don’t have to get up early to make it happen,” but it meant that everyone felt that they’d been heard. As a side benefit, we also got a better mix of activities than we might have if just one group had established the direction throughout. We did the museums and the historically significant sites, but we also did movies, live music, a folk dancing demonstration, a hands-on class, beaches and more.
It hasn’t always gone smoothly; we’ve been doing family trips for well over a decade now, and some have been far more successful than others. Undeniably, there were times that my husband and I got home with our jaws aching from clenching them so hard — did we really just spend an entire day of our break doing that? But we’ve all adapted over the years, and now we’re really starting to see the fruits of failed family vacations past.
We know that sometimes you go along to get along, and sometimes you go ahead and say that you’d rather not — whether it’s eating at a restaurant that only does seafood and your gang is strictly non-fish-eating, driving an extra half-hour for sightseeing with already-tired kids or just staying out later than you’d planned. There are some battles that are worth fighting because they help to head off future wars. Others… not so much. Better to just breathe deeply.
I’ve also learned that if I’m relaxed, that’s what gets mirrored back to me in kind. When I’m in knots about adhering to bedtime, soda quotas, screen restrictions and other formalities of life at home, the tension level around me tends to reflect back: the kids get crankier, the grandparents get more defiant about sticking to my rules — we all get more uptight and we all enjoy the experience less. If on the other hand I can bring myself to concede that vacation has a different set of expectations, we’re all better for it.
I know that someday, we won’t be able to have these trips anymore, and that I’ll miss the days when we could all be together. Someday, older people won’t have the energy or the ability to get around as easily. Someday, younger people will have jobs and commitments that make it hard to schedule around their daily lives. I know that those days will come, so I try to capture the moments while we have them, enjoy them while they are there for the taking. Someday, we’ll be talking about our memories of these vacations, and I want to do all I can to be sure that when we do, those conversations are ones that we have with smiles and laughter. I don’t know that a vacation can leave you with a better souvenir than that.