Parenting journalist and author of ‘New Old-Fashioned Parenting’ Liat Hughes Joshi shares her advice on how to make the most of quality family time with all three generations this holiday.
“A trip together builds bonds, strengthens relationships and creates lifelong memories”
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of holidays spent with my grandparents. Listening to their stories of days of old, their clever way of indulging us but equally not letting us get away with shenanigans, the things they had endless time to teach us.
Grandpa showed us how to skim stones across lakes. Grandma introduced us to endless different card games and generally spoilt us rotten with our favorite meals every single night. The specialness of connecting across the generations worked both ways; it was clear that they loved holidaying with us as much as we loved being away with them.
If it was important, as well as enjoyable, to holiday with grandparents back then, it’s surely even more so now. Those ubiquitous gadgets, our hectic work or homework and activities schedules, and the fact so many of us live further away from each other, all conspire against spending quality time together as a family.
But the upsides of so-called 3-Gen (three generation) holidays are practical too: exhausted parents who want some child-free space can call upon a usually willing Grandma and Grandpa for some babysitting for a start. Plus, if you’re opting for self-catering and traveling in a larger group you’ll often be able to get a larger, more luxurious property for the same cost per head. And if you’ll be cooking in-house, while there might be more mouths to feed, there will be more grown-up hands to lighten the load.
Tips for happier ‘3-Gen’ holidays
• Don’t feel pressured to spend every waking hour together or for everybody to join in with all activities – sometimes it’s nice to do your own thing in different combinations.
• Being together in the mornings for an activity, then apart for a quiet spell in the afternoons, before getting back as a group some evenings can work well to balance time as a family and having space too. A calmer afternoon also helps prevent young children from getting over-tired, overwhelmed and over-excited.
• Manage expectations of who is going to cook if you’re self-catering (barbecues are a low effort solution, weather and facilities permitting). Similarly, address how costs will be shared if this has the potential to cause tension.
• If you don’t get on so well normally, don’t assume being together on a holiday will make relationships magically harmonious. If things could get fraught, consider ‘together apart’ accommodation options such as a nearby hotel for your stay, or offer to share the cost of lodging with out of town visitors.
• Try and let little differences in childcare approaches go – it’s only for a few days after all. The children being given a few extra food treats, for example, is unlikely to cause a long-term problem.
If you’re a parent…
• Encourage the grandparents to show the younger generation traditional activities or share their knowledge – whether it’s skimming stones, building a shelter in the woods or talking about different types of birds and trees. Being one step removed, grandparents can often make subjects that would be dismissed as boring coming from parents, more exciting.
• If vastly differing sleeping or mealtime routines could cause tension – say, if the grandparents won’t take kindly to kids staying up late or getting up early – again, think about accommodation that will temper this. One or two hotel rooms might cost more but will mean you can have a holiday together with less stress and everyone gets their own space to retreat to.
• Don’t arrive empty-handed if you’re a guest. Offer to babysit one evening or give a generous gift certificate as a thank you for your hosts’ hospitality.
• Agree up front how much childcare you are happy to do if you don’t want to be left literally holding the baby/ children too much. Deal with this subtly and positively with a comment along the lines of ‘We’d love to babysit for X nights so you can go out on your own and then the other nights we’ll all stay in together or we will go out – sound OK?’
• If this is your first 3-Gen holiday, think carefully about how much of your own space you will want, especially if the grandchildren are very young and things could get hectic and noisy. Will you enjoy being in the thick of it or prefer to dip in and out and have your own space to retreat to?
Journalist and essayist Liat Hughes Joshi wrote “New Old-fashioned Parenting” and “How to Unplug Your Child.”