Summer vacations are on the horizon. If we spent vacation time away with our grown kids and their kids last year or in pre-Covid times, we may have had vacations that were lively and refreshing--or they may have been filled with cooking, cleaning and a lot of babysitting. We may have come home with nothing more than the semi-excitement of a change of scene and the busyness of constant company.
How to make sure this year we're on a three-generation holiday where we have as relaxing or invigorating a time as our kids and grandkids? Here are five rules to keep things rolling along smoothly.
Great expectations: Each of us has our own vision of what our vacation should look like. We may want to sit by the ocean and stare at the waves or play tennis every day or take a long walk every morning. Or just sleep late every morning. If we talk to each other in advance about what we really, really want out of our vacation, we can accommodate each other. That is, our kids won't ask us to babysit when it's our time to go off and read. And we won't disappear when we know it's our grown kids' time to play tennis with each other. Knowing each person's vacation goals also means you probably won't do everything together. And that's okay. It's even a bonus: It can make dinner conversations livelier.
Sharing the chores: If you're renting a house--or if you're lucky enough to own a retreat of your own--you don't want to be stuck cooking all the meals, stocking the refrigerator or vacuuming the day's litter every morning. A lot of families assign a dinner per person or family so that responsibility for cooking and clean-up gets spread around. As to babysitting patrol, some of us find that delightful but if you have your limits--and I do--there's nothing wrong with laying down some markers. For instance, you can encourage your kids to enjoy a date night and offer to babysit for the evening--which is a subtle reminder that you're not on duty all the time.
Splitting the costs: Many of us pick up the tab for family vacations--our kids are just establishing their careers; we have more expendable income than they do. Or, as sociologist Madonna Harington Meyer put it in an interview, "there is very little money flowing uphill" on family trips. But as our kids' families expand (larger families mean larger rental quarters) and we near or are in retirement, that one-way street may not work as well. Or even be necessary. We don't have to keep doing things as we've always done them. We won't get a cold shoulder if we ask them to share the rent on a beach house or split the grocery bill or if we let them take us out to dinner. A corollary to this rule is to get as big a house or campsite or tent as the family can afford: It will be worth it.
Parenting rules: Our grown kids set the rules for their kids. No argument there. While we may indulge our grandkids when they spend a few hours with us at home or on a special trip, the flaunting of the parental rules is not okay on vacations when we're crammed into a house together. A further complication: if two of our kids and their families are with us on vacation, we may have to juggle their different approaches to parenting. This one allows juice drinks; that one forbids them. This one allows swimming without water wings; that one doesn't--good luck remembering which is which. Best approach: ask before doing. If a grandkid wants to eat your portion of chocolate lava cake, don't just push your plate in front of them. Ask their mom or dad if a taste is okay.
Escape time: I loved our family vacations in Vermont with my kids and their young families. But the grandpops and I made ourselves scarce at around 4:30. That was usually melt-down time for the little kids, and the parents knew better than this grannie how to handle tired children who needed quiet time. Extra credit: When we came back on the scene, we were rested and refreshed. A guilt-free pleasure.
photo: Maia Lemov