Forced Family Fun Forever?

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.

Ronna Benjamin

Ronna Benjamin

After 28 years of practicing real estate law, Ronna Benjamin realized how much she loved writing and how much she hated lawyering. She jumped into the world of writing at Better After 50 and never looked back! She is loving her “second act” as Partner and Managing Editor at Better After 50. Ronna writes humorously about the things BA50s are concerned about – personal experiences with adult children, the quirks of aging parents and in-laws, and her own emotional and physical health issues (i.e., insomnia, anxiety, and bulging waist lines). A native Bostonian who loves to spend time with her husband and three adult children, Ronna also enjoys sailing, cooking, running, and biking–and she tolerates skiing so she is not left home during family vacations. Check out her new book “We Are Better After 50 Because…” co-written by Ronna and her BA50 Partner Felice Shapiro, a perfect gift for the birthday girl in her 50’s! 

  4 comments for “Forced Family Fun Forever?

  1. Janet
    February 22, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Great piece, Ronna!

  2. Bill Cress
    February 23, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    I love this story and it correctly highlights the difficulty of travelling with older children. The next expense with be the significant others joining you. The good news the travel is typically a yearly event and the the time dims the negative and expands the good. You may not start planning next years trip until October. And by the way—the children will not be pleased if YOU abandon them for the romantic Paris trip.

  3. Vanda
    July 5, 2015 at 7:53 pm

    Great article but I still have one question. After more than a dozen vacations together my significant other now wants to start brining is grown 27 year old daughter on vacation. I work with his daughter, I want a vacation away from work and my staff. She acts like a 10 year old around her dad and he treats her like one. They sit next to each other the plane, hold hands and nap on each other shoulders. I’m definitely the third wheel..

    My thought, once kids were out of college and working, they should be taking vacations with friends or boy/girl friend. This girl still lives at home with mom, no intention of moving out and being independent. I can’t make him understand we are empty nesters and should be doing our own thing without a 3rd wheel.

    I have stage 4 colon cancer so there aren’t that many more peaceful vacations left for me. I get more stressed out taking her when I should be relaxing.

    I have no intension of spending my hard earned money to take a vacation with her again, 3 was enough.

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