Family vacations in our house have always facetiously been referred to as “FFF” or “Forced Family Fun,” but right now it doesn’t seem like much of a joke. We just returned from a family ski vacation in Colorado with our three adult children, ages 25, 22 and 18. While the skiing was wonderful (despite the gloomy predictions of record low snow fall) my husband and I both returned home wondering if there is a right time to stop taking one’s adult kids on vacation.
Years ago, when I was still aglow from a truly bonding family vacation, I naively posed a question to our sage family pediatrician: “Will there be a time when our kids will not want to go on vacation with us?” Her answer: “As long as you pay, they will come.” And, sure enough, just like the doctor’s sure-fire method of toilet training and giving up the bottle, she proved to be right. But it turns out we were asking the wrong question. We should have asked, “How long will we WANT to vacation with our adult children? When is enough, enough?”
The fact is, like most people, we have a limited amount of vacation dollars and time. A family vacation for five adults consumes 2.5 times the vacation dollars (and probably causes 2.5 times more tension) than a romantic getaway for two. For the cost of this particular vacation, surely my husband and I could have flown first-class to Paris, stayed in a suite at the Ritz, leisurely visited the grand masters at the Louvre, and dined at a few Michelin rated restaurants. Yet, despite the cost, year after year, I painstakingly plan our family vacations, often compromising my ideal vacation (foreign lands) to that of my children’s (snow covered mountains).
So, instead of enjoying dinner for two at Le Meurice, we found ourselves at a luxury bowling alley in Vail Village, having beer, champagne and a few over-priced appetizers. My son was “bowling” lefty because he had torn the A-C ligament in his right shoulder doing stupid snowboard tricks a few days earlier, but at least he was in a good mood (the Percocet helped). My oldest daughter was upset because she thought I was criticizing her bowling technique (I was, but only because I thought that we might be charged extra for the floor dents). Our youngest daughter was less than enthusiastic. Her turn at bowling consisted of apathetically dropping the ball slightly in the direction of the pins, never even glancing over her shoulder as she returned to her seat to see how many pins she had knocked down. Her message reached us loud and clear: “I can’t believe I was born into this family.” The cost of the evening: $250. They took American Express of course, but I don’t think “Priceless” describes the time spent with the children that night.
Mike and I have never doubted that our investment in family vacations as the kids were growing up was worth it. They were some of the best times of our lives. But now that the kids are older, the family close, the kids mature and on their own, I’m not so sure. It’s different taking a vacation with adult children. They may drink alcohol (two of mine seem to have developed a taste for fine wine). They don’t get kid’s meals. They don’t get tired. They have their own work pressures. They miss their significant others. One may be at a stage where the thought of spending dinner, let alone a week, with the rest of her boorish family, makes her want to commit Hari-kari.
So, we wonder now whether the smiles and duets of my daughters watching “Rent” together from a laptop, overcomes the exhaustion of schlepping four snowboards, a pair of skis and all the boots. We wonder whether the experience of sitting together on a chairlift watching the sun hit the snow like silver glitter, outshines my youngest announcing that she “doesn’t really love snowboarding” after the first two hours on the slopes. We wonder whether the girls’ lovingly zipping up my injured son’s jacket and tying his shoes, overcomes the anxiety of a trip to the emergency room. We wonder whether the time watching the Colbert Report together and discussing the South Carolina primary, negates the tears at the end of an expensive dinner. We wonder whether their appreciation is real, and if it is real, whether it is enough.
The truth is, our children make our lives shine. We enjoy their company, we love and respect them. But perhaps we will all be better off if time is spent with them on their terms, not on ours. Maybe family vacations have just become too forced. Perhaps Forced Family Fun is Finished, or maybe it’s simply time to make it optional.