When it comes to parenthood, there are so many firsts inextricably tied into the whole jumble of raising kids: their first words, first steps, first tooth. And even more lasts – some met with nothing short of unbridled parental glee such as: their last diaper, last bottle, last night-time feeding session. Then there are the lasts that sneak up on us – the finality not sinking in until long after the momentous event has even occurred – the last time our kids called us “mommy” or “daddy”, the last time they reached for our hand while walking together . . . our last vacation as a family.
For those parents not yet entrenched in the teen years, the death of the family vacation may not even have hit their radar yet. But it’s there . . . lurking in the not-too distant future. Yet another aspect of parenthood instilling moms and dads with a pending sense of loss causing us to scramble and stress and try to pack the most quality into the little quantity we have left.
For Lori and Brad Pearson, travel has always played a major role in the way they live life – both before and after kids.
“In my opinion, travel is one of the most important aspects of life,” says Lori. “It’s how you learn to appreciate what you have, where you live and who you are.”
It was in 2014 when Lori made the sudden realization that the Pearson family vacations were running on borrowed time. Early in their marriage, Lori and Brad took a month off in order to back pack through Greece and Turkey. But even after kids made an appearance (Calvin, 17; Sidney, soon-to-be 16; Devyn, 13), the Pearsons didn’t let it slow their travel plans down in any way. In fact, over the past 17 years, they have managed some pretty breathtaking voyages including a 10-day visit to Morocco in 2012 and a three-year stint in Switzerland in 2010 when Brad accepted an overseas position.
Her kids were at their busiest with school, sports and part-time jobs when it dawned on her – her eldest would soon be off to university ready to live his life – and hanging with the family on vacation would most likely not be one of his future priorities.
But where the Pearsons are concerned, family vacations are not yet a faded memory. Lori found she just needed to be a bit more creative in terms of holiday planning while also tweaking the way they’ve done things in the past in order to make it more enticing for her kids.
“What has worked for us in the past doesn’t necessarily work for us as a family now. I’ve had to recognize this and figure out a new plan of action,” says Lori. “Right now, summer is the best time for us to travel – there are less sports commitments and it means my older kids won’t have to miss any school. We’ve also managed to organize a few meaningful long weekends together as a family which have been incredible. Just as good – if not better than an extended holiday would have been.”
When teens and tweens start throwing some serious shade where the family vacation is concerned, it may be time for parents to take a different tack. When planning an upcoming family holiday, it’s important to get the kids on board so keep these guidelines in mind:
•Most importantly – note what works for your family and then go with it
•Get the kids involved in the decision making and planning of your next family vacation
•Consider vacationing with another family who have kids the same age as yours
•Plan a vacation that offers something for everyone in the family – whether it be rest, relaxation, activities and/or excursions
•If feasible, let your kids bring a friend along
•Organize travel plans with plenty of advanced warning – this will not only give kids time to get excited – but also to clear their school and work schedules
•If possible, travel during off-peak times
•Don’t limit your family to only hotel accommodations – consider using Airbnb, house-swapping, hostels, even university residences for your lodging
•Finally, remember there is no such thing as the “perfect” family vacation. Be relaxed and flexible and roll with any unexpected punches
With three teenagers in tow, the Sawyer family* received a wake-up call while in the midst of planning a vacation last winter. It was at this point in time they realized that in terms of coordinating their holidays, not everyone in the family was on the same page.
“I discovered that my oldest son’s priorities had changed and they weren’t exactly lined up with mine anymore,” says mother Jessica. “Once I reconciled myself to this fact – and realized how lucky I was to have had him for as long as I did, it took a lot of pressure off.”
Still, Jessica described her initial reaction as 90% sadness and 10% panic.
She felt like her eldest son was slipping away and that their family dynamic was changing and there was nothing she could do about it. But then she shook off the negativity and went about using her negotiation tactics to plan a vacation that all three of her kids could get excited about.
For Jessica and her husband Kenneth, planning family holidays has always involved some level of negotiation since all three of their children (Mark, 18; Mitchell, 15; Maureen, 13) were born in the summer and prefer to be at home to celebrate their birthdays.
“We asked the kids for their opinions on where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do,” says Jessica. “Then we tried to find something that hit everyone’s vacation goals. For me, I wanted a vacation that would leave room for spontaneity but be conducive for us to eat dinner together every night as a family. We also discussed the possibility of having Mark join us for only part of the vacation. That way if he needed to return home earlier for his part-time job, it would be doable.”
Something else that worked for the Sawyer family was to choose a window of time for a family vacation without making any concrete travel plans. This gave everyone plenty of time to sort out their work, sports and social calendar and then the family booked a last-minute deal closer to the dates.
“Even though I know our last family vacation may be the final one with everyone together, it doesn’t mean that our family vacations have ended. They’ll just change,” says Jessica. “If one or two of our kids are with us, it’s still a family vacation as far as I’m concerned.”
Jessica offers a simple yet poignant view on this shifting dynamic around the family vacation. In her opinion, the adjustment that parents of teens must face is a walk in the park compared to the modifications they once had to make when first learning to travel with a baby and/or kids on board.
And of course there’s a bright side . . . there always is.
These eventual empty-nest vacations will open up an entire new phase of family life – where spouses can enjoy travel and holidays together without the hassle that inevitably tags along with kids. As with any new phase in life, there may be a sense of loss and wistfulness – but also a sense of new adventure that is buoyed by the memories of family vacations of the past.
“As a family, we have memories that everyone can look back on with fondness,” says Lori. “Even as my kids struggle to make their own way in life and exert their independence – Brad and I have created this foundation for them. They will always have that no matter what the future brings.” While Lori and Brad Pearson have no way of knowing what their future family get-aways will entail, they are perfectly content with the travel experiences they have provided their kids with up until now.
And once the Pearson kids have flown the coop, Lori may actually find the time to start organizing their family vacation photo albums!
*Members of the Sawyer family are using pseudonyms