What my multigenerational family vacation taught me
I have been traveling with my children since they were in diapers and drinking out of bottles. One of my favorite moments in travel was hiking along the Black Hills of South Dakota with a moody tween, a feisty 2 year old, and a 1 year old who refused to wear pants and thus, hiked in diapers – because I learned earlier on to pick my battles.
And over the years that is exactly what I have done when traveling with the kids. Of course, this is also done with the overall understanding that there are no-go zones when it comes to behavior, but the occasional sibling argument, refusal to go on yet another hike, the request to stay in and order pizza, the choice of airplane seat (most of the time), etc.; these things I have learned to stop, breathe, and just let go.
My children have also learned to go with the flow more. Often times, I am traveling with demands for work, on a client’s schedule, or with ideas for a story of my own. My husband and children have learned to be flexible, be patient, be forgiving, and follow along.
We also are big on taking into consideration each other’s wants, needs, and feelings. We talk a lot. Sometimes, I yell for the kids to hurry, or get their things together, or take a shower, or get out of the shower, or go to sleep, or get up…I mean, listen. Family travel ain’t always pretty. But we learn to have fun and make the most of where we are.
However, we never traveled with my mother.
This was new to all of us. I only really met my biological mom a few months ago, so this was a huge step for us.
They say that the best way to know if a new relationship is going to work is to travel with that person.
Now, before you think that our relationship is doomed, or that it was a complete disaster, let me just assure you that it isn’t, wasn’t, and my mother and I remain very loving and close.
But, there was a new person in the mix and it changed the dynamics of things in a way that I never knew before. I have a certain way I communicate with my husband and my children. They know me. Traveling with my mother was different in that she had opinions in areas that I am not used to hearing them from others, like whether or not my kids were being bratty, or if she thought they were eating too much, or weren’t being as respectful as she might have tolerated when she was a mom of younger kids.
Where I tend to push my family to go full-speed ahead, there were times when my mother didn’t appreciate it or want to. And though I have to say, she is one of the coolest grandmas I know simply for getting on all the crazy rides the kids wanted (often more than once), another person in the family dynamic whose feelings, thoughts, and needs I had to consider was something to get used to.
None of this is necessarily a bad thing. But it taught me something new about myself.
I sometimes found that I am not as easy-going as I think myself to be. I am not as open to comments or suggestions as I consider, especially with regards to my children, and I can become exasperated by change.
I thought long and hard about why and what all this meant. It was clear to me that my relationship with my mother is not unlike many other mother-daughter relationships where mom has a lot to say and daughter doesn’t always want to hear it. I have a mom, and all that it means to have one.
The great thing about my mom is that I know she always comes into it with love. I saw her too struggling to keep up with our fast-paced, high-energy, intense form of travel. We are a family that goes hard when we travel and I could see her really wanting to be a part of it, even through exhaustion.
Slowing down for her, though she never asked us to, was different for us but it was a part of our goal to always consider her too.
We traveled for two weeks together and the first few days were a bit bumpy. For all the reasons I mention above, but also because of my teen. He is changing and growing and has expectations, needs, and wants that drift him apart from us a bit. His desire for independence reflected itself in a lot of ways this last vacation, and we realized that this might be the last time in awhile that we will travel again like this as a family. He says no, but I can see that when he has the authority to choose, we might not always be the first choice he makes. Another difficult reality.
By the second half of the first week of travel with both my teen and my mom, we had found a flow that worked.
We had a blast and laughed so, so much. We loved sharing the places we were in together. It felt really lovely.
In Steamboat, CO which we ALL are in love with. We have fun posing for pictures in this quirky way. My mom learned quickly how to go the flow and have fun with it.
It felt great to find our mojo…a different mojo and embrace this new family dynamic. I’m glad we were lucky enough to have had the time to recover and get back to that place of joy and love and understanding of each other, so that we could move towards enjoying our trip. But it took a lot of self-reflection and motivation of myself to navigate this new experience with an open mind and open heart. I have a painful family history and didn’t realize how high my defenses still are. Once I got out of my own way, I was able to appreciate my mom to the fullest.
My mom is one of the coolest grandmas I have ever met.
And I think that if you are going to take on the experience of traveling with multiple family members outside of the comfortable and familiar family unit that you already know and trust, that you have to be ready for that challenge. Embrace the ways in which things might be new or different, and apply the rules of respect, consideration, and patience (as well as not sweating the small stuff) that you would apply were it just your small family circle and yourself.
My mom quickly realized that as a traveling family we are a bit more outgoing, adventurous, and silly than she’d imagine.
I saw a lot of myself in my mother…even in the things that she did that might have annoyed me a bit, which I think is pretty eye-opening and humbling.
I definitely got to know my mom more, and I know she got to know me more too and we walked away still close, with love for each other, and with a clearer understanding of who we are as women, mothers, and travelers.
It’s probably the best learning experience in travel I have had in a very, very long time and I can’t wait to have her join us on another adventure soon.