Getting Along While You're Getting Away

Traveling with grandchildren can be complicated

By Roberta Sotonoff

"Who wants to go to the butterfly farm?" I asked my family during a recent vacation in the Caribbean.

The preschool-aged grandchildren cheered. The newlyweds groaned. Rather than deny the kids their fun, or drag the lovebirds along, everyone split up that day and did what they wanted. When we met up later for dinner, not only was everyone happy, they all had stories to share about their day.

Allowing autonomy is just one of the secrets to a successful family vacation with the kids and grandchildren. Here are some more rules of engagement for a three-generation vacation.

Plan to Avoid Problems

You might love each other now, but setting up some parameters before the trip will keep you from hating each other later.

“If there are problems before departure, approach it and define. This should be done upfront,” says Dr. Laura Bokar of the Fox Valley Institute for Growth and Wellness in Naperville, Ill. “People want to do different things at different times. Things can get complicated because of the factors involved.”

What kind of factors are we talking about? Major situations like disciplining children and long-standing issues or jealousy between siblings. Some family members may have more money to spend than others; that can put a crimp on activities. Siblings with no children may have issues with the behavior of young children or the moods of pre-pubescent and teenage kids. If little Johnny starts screaming and pounding his head on the floor because he can’t have ice cream, childless adults quickly have second thoughts about family togetherness.

Keep in mind that situations that are sometimes insignificant can ruffle feathers. For example, a villa or a beach house destination can become intolerable if everyone wants fresh air and Dad closes all the windows and turns on the air conditioning. Before long, everyone is ready to kill the family patriarch.

Many problems can be eliminated by setting guidelines before you leave town. When everyone knows what is expected of them and adheres to it, things can sail along. Here are a few pointers to consider before you pack your bags:

• Call a family meeting or, if everyone does not live nearby, try to set up a telephone conference or online chat so everybody can discuss what they think might be an issue.

• If possible, try to get roomy accommodations. Even though it may be more costly, it is a cheap price to pay if everyone has their own space and conflict is avoided.

• Disciplining kids is the job of their parents — not aunts, uncles or grandparents.

• Before departure, make sure everyone knows that family togetherness will not be required 24/7.

Tactics for Traveling Together

• If someone does something of which you do not approve, keep your mouth shut. You are there to relax, not nitpick each other.

• No one should have a hissy fit if one of the family doesn’t want to join an activity.

• Allow for time to chill out. Young kids do not have the stamina of adults, and grandparents sometimes have less energy than everyone else.

• Do not overindulge the kids. Little Jenny does not need to have every souvenir she sees.

• Before you leave, try to pinpoint particular areas that might cause conflict. Figure out how to deal with them. For example, it should be understood that disciplining children is solely the parent’s responsibility. Remember the words of Dr. Bokar, “Each family takes care of their own unless it gets abusive.”

• In order to enjoy each other’s company, the whole group should eat together at least once a day. If the grownups are planning to go to an “adults only” restaurant, share lunch with everyone.

• Try not to get into arguments in front of the rest of the family. In the instance of two siblings, the third could get the unpopular job of mediator. Often it is the “sandwich” generation that gets caught between the two others. “If a couple gets into a fight,” Dr. Boker says, “stay out of it. If it (the problem) is between you and someone else, it is important to resolve it. Not thinking about it will bring distance.”

• Plan a loosely structured itinerary of activities that the whole family can enjoy.

• No matter what you think, keep your mouth shut. If something bothers you, you have two choices: keep it under wraps and deal with it when you get home, or let it go. As Jimmy Buffett preached, changes in latitude should bring changes in attitude.

Above all, maintain a sense of humor. No matter what happens — a plane delay, lost luggage or your sun-drenched island destination gets soaked — some circumstances are way beyond your control. If you can find the funny side of the situation, it won’t seem so bad.

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