For several years, I tried to plan a vacation for our family, somewhere fun and relaxing for our twenty and thirty-something children and son-in-law. Our schedules were out of sync. I was frustrated and disappointed but not surprised given the kids place in life-my oldest in medical school then residency and married, my son finishing graduate school then taking jobs where the soccer season dictated his time available, and my youngest in college and then with full-time employment that, while offering benefits, had limited vacation. I made suggestions, cooked up plans, and tried to find a window of opportunity in their schedules along with an accessible destination. Nothing worked beyond a couple days at the holidays or on a random summer weekend at one of our homes. It was not unusual for someone to swoop in and out for a twenty-four hour visit, like a guest appearance. We were rarely all together. This was our new normal.
I gave up on a proper family vacation. No more suggestions, no more schemes, no more pleas or complaints. This year Dan and I chose our vacation destinations and made reservations. Then I sent the kids an email sharing our plans and threw in a line that they were welcome to join us. It worked. They are joining us on a trip to Denmark and Germany. The trip is similar to ones we took when they were kids, a self-guided tour with planes, trains, and automobiles visiting old friends, museums, historical sights, and the Mannix family vacation staple-a soccer match.I am pleased. I am excited. I am a little nervous.
Constant in my mind is my husband’s counsel to manage expectations. I think of mine, his, and theirs. It is tricky business finding a balance between taking on the full responsibility of the trip and following their lead, recognizing they want input but not the stress of the details. Dan and I set some financial guidelines. Everyone bought their own flights. We picked reasonably priced hotels where the older ones will pay for their room while our youngest will bunk with us, and thankfully, for a couple of nights our Danish friends will house all the kids.
Emails communicated logistics and our top sights, then solicited their interests and requested research for said interests. My oldest will handle restaurants. She is a foodie with great and expensive taste. I stipulated only one or two extravagant meals if you want us to pick up the tab, which is our plan. My son-in-law found breweries, he and his father-in-law are pleased. I worry about how this will slow our sight-seeing and then remind myself that we need time to relax and just be. Plus, these stops may be the guys happiest memories. My son doesn’t answer the emails, he will only make a portion of the trip, and rarely makes a request. My youngest daughter throws out amusing off-the-beaten track ideas like a puppet museum. I make no assumptions. I recognize that they are grown, want to acknowledge how they have changed, but they seem content in the roles they had on our many family trips: planner, follower, joker.
I am curious to see how the sibling dynamic will play out over the week. They are tight, and while they talk or facetime almost daily, they live from east to west coast, no one in the same time zone. When you hang up the phone or close the app you return to your life. A week’s vacation is a lot of family time.
I plan for success-changing the itinerary to fewer destinations, reserving separate hotel rooms and renting a bigger van. I hope for the best and remind myself even the tough moments on vacations are great memories: at Crystal Palace Football Park when our son-in-law who was the boyfriend enticed our daughter with a pasty to avoid a hangry outburst(we knew he was the one), or the time when we were lost and disagreeing over directions, and I crushed the map of Paris into a ball and heaved it, or the twenty plus block walk on a cold January day in NYC to the Met all the while promising a taxi only to realize we needed to go to MOMA ,a museum we had walked past an hour before, and of course the long walks on any vacation that the older kids referred to as a forced march and my youngest thought was called ‘forest march’. Those difficult moments are now family lore.
As I make my packing list, I am making my travel with adult children vacation list:
- Remember I am the parent, always act it-no outbursts or sulking and don’t forget to have snacks in my bag
- Don’t be too structured with time or destinations
- Insist on my top sight(ARoS Museum), then let the rest of the trip unfold
- Let them lead, following willingly
- Allow everyone their personal space or time alone, not everything needs to be en masse
- Go to bed when tired, don’t overdo
- Recognize they are grown up-don’t stick them in a stage or age or version of themselves
- Observe, listen, don’t fill silences unnecessarily
- Remember my happiness is derived from seeing others happy, engaged, and being themselves
- Each of us is responsible for their own happiness. After I board the plane, stop managing and enjoy my vacation
Here’s to a happy trip. I’m interested to see what I learn from this adventure and how to implement for the next . . . goodness, I hope there will be a next time.