Should We Take Kids on Family Trip When Trip Is Not Kid-Oriented?
May 10, 2017 3:41 AM   Subscribe

Our family with three little kids has the opportunity to go on a week-long trip with relatives, some of whom are not kid friendly. Should we go, and if so, how can we make the trip less stressful?

The relatives are all really nice but some of them only want to catch up with adults and talk most of the time. Meanwhile little kids want to do kid stuff and they get fussy. Grandparents and uncles usually help with the kids when it's just them but may be too busy talking to help much in this case. It's a 6 hour car ride with one of the passengers being a baby. Is it possible to reduce the stress of such a trip? How can we talk to relatives about this issue?

Relevant details: about 15 people staying in 2 houses. One other baby is coming. Everybody gets along. Location has lots of outdoor activities (think ocean, woods, and hiking).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total)
Speaking as a not-particularly-kid-friendly adult, I would lean on the side of not going, mainly because it sounds like it won't be particularly fun for your kids, either. Especially given the 6-hour car ride.
posted by Tamanna at 3:45 AM on May 10, 2017 [14 favorites]

I don't think it's a big deal, if you're getting together with multiple generations of family you've got to expect there's going to be the odd kid around.
- Have the families with kids stay in the same house, the less-kid-enthusiastic in the other house.
- Families with kids can go off together and do kid-orientated stuff on some days while the non-kid crowd do something that isn't suitable for kids anyway (waterskiing or mountain-climbing or whatever).
- On a smaller scale, if the adults want to do some boring catching up/talking, parents should figure out somewhere nearby they can take the kids (to get them out of the house, tire them out, etc) that's not a big day-trip thing. Short bike ride, walk down to the playground, play games in the woods, etc.
- When everyone's together, parents wrangle kids so they don't annoy adults/make too much noise. Take them off elsewhere if they have a meltdown. Adults be adults and put up with it.
- For joint activities, parents have a Plan B if kids are acting up/there's a nappy explosion/other Childcare Incident that avoids everyone having to wait around or go home, e.g. parents can separate off and meet everyone later on, or they travelled separately so it's not a big deal if they need to go home early.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:53 AM on May 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

I like the idea of splitting up sometimes. Or is there any chance of getting a sitter for a day or night while you're there? I've found it surprisingly easy to find good sitters when we've travelled (or maybe I've not been too picky, hmmm) -- there are so many agencies out there now. It would be great if you could go off with the kids a lot, but then have adults only time some other nights. Or if you can't get a sitter, alternate parents to watch kids so there can be lots of adults-only time.

And I get that some adults aren't kid-friendly, but I think families all have to make sacrifices. It's obviously OK not to go (and sometimes this is the most respectful thing to do), but it's not OK if you can never go and the adults who don't like kids can always go. There have to be some tradeoffs on both sides, esp. if the kids are little (and will be little for a long time -- not a matter of waiting it out.)
posted by caoimhe at 3:58 AM on May 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

How can we talk to relatives about this issue?

By telling them you'd love for your family to join them while reassuring them they are not on the hook for monitoring your kids. Because it's their vacation too and nothing ratchets up the stress level of one of those trips than hitting a chaise with the book you want to dive into and, "oh, hey since you're not doing anything, can you keep an eye on these 2 for a bit while we go into town?"

But I've been on these trips as the childless adult and they end up to be a lot of fun for everyone, rough patches notwithstanding. I think you should go.
posted by kimberussell at 4:06 AM on May 10, 2017 [23 favorites]

some of them only want to catch up with adults and talk most of the time. Meanwhile little kids want to do kid stuff and they get fussy.

Why is this a problem? Go and stay with your larger family while planning your own daily smaller family outings. If a grandparent wants to come and help, great.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:17 AM on May 10, 2017 [13 favorites]

If you don't particularly want to go and don't feel a strong familial obligation to go, don't go. Kids make trips more challenging even when they're having fun. Most sane people understand that kids make traveling a lot more logistically and financially difficult, and will understand if you can't make it.

If you do go, assume it'll be a you-and-the-kids vacation while the kids are awake, and plan accordingly. Catch up with the grown ups after bedtime.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:24 AM on May 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure what ages you mean by "little", but it can be valuable for kids to be around cordial adults who aren't particularly kid-oriented and who don't go out of their way to cater to them. If nothing else, it'll help them internalize that sometimes adults just want to be adults and that's okay.

As an only child whose extended family had maybe one or two cousins my age, most of our family gatherings were like this. Things usually went fine for me and the other kids as long as our parents figured out supervision duties for us - we just didn't get to do kid stuff too often, but we also understood (once we were old enough) that it came with the territory and we didn't get to be fussy about it.
posted by blerghamot at 4:32 AM on May 10, 2017 [22 favorites]

I mean, the kids are part of the family no? It's an unreasonable expectation for you to leave for a vaca and leave 3 kids behind especially as alternative care givers will all be ON the vacation (love my sitter but she couldn't do overnight let alone a week)

As for kids and 6 hours in a car? Pssshhh. That's one stop, maybe two. Road trips with kids are awesome if you plan ahead. Not too many activities so they have some car game time (i spy, sing along, license plate game etc). I really see no issue or downside here. If someone feels the need to call you out on bringing YOUR family to the family vacation you are free to simply look aghast, tell them you forgive them for being insensitive and then let it go (of course im a jerk so you might want to temper your reaction but, when it comes to my kids, thats my reaction)
posted by chasles at 4:42 AM on May 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think that if you go you'll just have a bad time- the kids will be fine.

You're going to be on kid watch 24/7 in a home that isn't necessarily set up for kid activities like your own might be or bringing the kids out to do kidstuff (in which case you're missing the adult time and could have just stayed home.

If the other people there don't want to baby sit, then they won't and there's not a ton you can do about it.

That being said, if it's important for you or your spouse to get this time with family, go, but realize it won't be a vacation for the care-taking parent and they may need that vacation time once you all return.
posted by raccoon409 at 4:56 AM on May 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

How little is little? This basically was family vacation for most of my childhood because staying with family and soclalizing was cheap. Are the kids old enough to play around adults without bursting in on the adults every second? That was pretty much what we did - read or drew or played while the adults did their thing, watched some TV, spent some time outdoors, came along on some adult activities. If there are adults who are cool with a little child interaction, taking a kid to an unfamiliar grocery store or having the kid do an unfamiliar chore can actually be pretty interesting. That's babysitting, but it's not the kind of kid-centric babysitting where you do absolutely nothing but focus on the kid, and some adults find it much easier.
posted by Frowner at 5:17 AM on May 10, 2017 [20 favorites]

We've done this kind of vacation and the main things are 1) how kid-friendly is the space? Will rooms without vast quantities of breakables be available and 2) this is not a vacation for the parents so gauge your energy levels and vacation time accordingly.

The drive depends on your kids, but for that length of drive we would pack the night before, get up and go outside for a full morning of active play for the non-babies, eat lunch around 11, get in the car and gooooooo for as long as naps and patience allowed, stop and have a picnic-style snack at any available playground-park en route, back in the car for as long as everyone can stand, stop for dinner, get in for late-ish bedtimes. Ymmv.

Agreed that planning kid activities (sounds lovely there) that involve going out down the road is pretty ideal. If there are libraries, visitor centers, etc. in the area that can be really nice - maybe one parent stays with the baby/adults and one does tot/child duty. Plan to sleep early with your kids so you're not doing adult late nights plus toddler early mornings.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:24 AM on May 10, 2017

Grandparents and uncles usually help with the kids when it's just them but may be too busy talking to help much in this case.

Your kids are your responsibility. If you are going so that non-kid-centric people will help you with your kids, please don't go. Those people are on vacation and off-duty.

If you also want to be off-duty, don't bring your kids, or bring a sitter/au pair with you.
posted by headnsouth at 5:58 AM on May 10, 2017 [37 favorites]

Your kids will be fine whatever you choose. But you may not be doing a favor to any of the adults. You can't demand that grandparents and uncles do childcare instead of vacationing. It's not really a vacation for whoever's watching the kids, and that's going to be you.

Also - I don't mean to be unkind but this is what I have observed - it depends on if your baby is a crier. The other day I was at a group vacation with a variety of little ones, and the parents with the constant-crier baby really couldn't spend time with the group at all. It was uncomfortable for everyone and they left early.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:02 AM on May 10, 2017 [13 favorites]

I just wanted to add that this is basically every Jersey Shore House Family Vacation ever, and it's a combination of big family meals, separating on the boardwalk to do age-appropriate stuff, some people sleep in and miss breakfast, sometimes kids have to disappear early. It always just works out.
posted by kimberussell at 6:07 AM on May 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm really torn. As someone without kids who only gets to see her relatives on special occasions, I must admit that it can be disappointing when those get togethers inevitably become focused on the kids - either because the kids are of an age when they are just understandably demanding, or because the relatives you'd come to visit (grandparents and aunts/uncles, not just the parents) are now tied up taking care of the kids. You ask how to talk to your relatives, but I don't think anybody is likely to honestly say if they would prefer that you leave the kids at home - I'm not sure it's possible to do that without fear of seeming like a terrible human being. As one of those relatives, no matter how much you love your nieces/nephews/grandkids/etc and how happy you are to see them, it's still hard sometimes.

On the other hand, as was mentioned upthread the kids are part of the family. And as a kid I always loved getting together with my relatives - especially since it didn't happen all that often. I can see why that is important, too.

What if you planned to come, but only for part of the week? That way you and your kids get to be part of the family fun, but you're still giving everyone the chance they'd wanted to catch up and otherwise hang out with the other adults. You might find that after 3ish days you're ready to head home anyway, so maybe a win-win for everyone?
posted by DingoMutt at 6:17 AM on May 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

I think it really comes down to whether or not you will have a good time. If you're going to have to chase your kids around away from the main group 100% of the time, I don't see the point of going- you might as well find a vacation spot YOU want to go to that you can enjoy along with your kids, free of the guilt and stress of also dealing with extended family. You won't have little kids forever- you can skip these big trips now and jump back in once the kids are a little older.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:37 AM on May 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I regularly go on trips like this with extended family. I have no children of my own, do not want any, and am maybe borderline on the kid-unfriendly scale. I love playing with kids for an hour or two. If it's more like four hours, they start to wear on me. And I don't ever want to be solely responsible for the children — I'm not left alone with other people's children for more than a handful of minutes, nor would I want to be. So, as others have already said, don't expect the childfree adults to provide substitute childcare while you go off and do your own thing. (If they offer to, great, and the grandparents on my family's trips often will, but don't ever consider it something it you're entitled to.)

Another thing you can do is make sure the kids go to bed at a reasonable hour. On our trips, the kids are typically in bed by 9 while the adults will stay up until maybe 11 or so, giving them a few hours of adults-only time. This may mean that one parent has to go to with the kids when they go to bed, depending on whether yours are the type to stay in bed on their own. If this is needed, take turns doing this so that you and your partner (assuming you're a two-parent household) can each enjoy the adults-only time on different nights.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:46 AM on May 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

Practical suggestions: bring puzzles, board games, books, drawing supplies, and kid friendly movies (along with a portable viewing device if one isn't available at the house) for when the kids are sitting around while grown-ups talk. Maybe enlist them to help you make an easy meal one of the nights. Be aware of your family and their quirks. I have one extended family who takes forever to do anything, and with my kid, I'll just say, sorry we can't sit in this restaurant for 40 minutes arguing about who is paying, here's my share and I'm putting kiddo in the car.

Spend as much time outside as you can, gathering together for meals and a few day trips. Keep the kids too tired and busy to act out much.

Generally, kids should be expected to be polite to adults, but that goes both ways, doesn't it? If the grown-ups can't be trusted to extend kindness to your children, I'd probably choose not to go.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:06 AM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

What on earth does the rest of the family expect you to do with your children? You mention a BABY - for the love of god, a parent should leave a baby for a week to sit around and talk with adults because some of them don't like children? Who is supposed to care for the children while you are away if the rest of the people who normally would are there too? I mean, if the parent WANTS to leave the baby and really needs a break, that's one thing, but your question sure doesn't read like you want to leave your kids behind. We are not talking about a night at a bar for a significant event, which would be a reasonable request - this is an entire week and most likely a good chunk of your vacation time.

The rest of the family is being unreasonable in this case. Small children and babies are a part of humanity and your family. If they want to spend a week with you, that includes kids. And if you don't want to go because it sounds like a drag, that is totally reasonable and you should plan a vacation with your spouse and kids that will actually be fun for you.
posted by john_snow at 7:07 AM on May 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

Go. Children and babies are not some sort of different species that needs to be segregated from the rest of the population, particularly if you're talking about a family trip. They're part of the family.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:46 AM on May 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

When my brother had kids, it was frustrating for me as a childless person that I never really got a chance to talk with him any more. We'd historically not been that good at phone calls, and would take visits home to family as our time to connect and really catch up - we'd be up on each others news already, but visits were when we had a chance to actually talk in depth of how we felt about our news. Then he had kids, and conversations were never longer than 10 minutes, except for about a half hour after the kids finally started sleeping, at which point the parents would be exhausted and head to bed. His kids are older now, and that makes grown-up conversations easier, but the first step was that I had to change my mental approach to how things were going to go. I had to make more phone calls so that we weren't starting from scratch when we got together in person; it helped when I identified in advance what I wanted to talk with him about (and told him so!) instead of the vague "we haven't really caught up the way we used to" feeling; I had to adjust to the idea that I would never have his full attention, and we had to establish when it was ok to have a conversation requiring 60% of his attention and when he really wanted to use his 60% for child-minding and participate in the adult world mostly by listening, and when he needed to be 90-100% focused on kid tasks and I should shut up and leave him alone. As you can tell, I'm not the easiest "kid-friendly" family member. (as an addendum, once the girls hit elementary school, we get along great, but I'm not toddler-friendly).

So I'm hearing in your question the sense that there are people in your family who are not into toddlers, which is mostly what you have, and you're aware that they're frustrated that they'll never get to talk with you, and will try to hog your attention, and/or ignore you because you can't prioritize them. They're being clueless and ungracious, but they're not necessarily intentionally jerks, there's a good chance they're like me and just haven't adjusted to the new definition of what it's like to get together as a family. THey need practice. Your kids aren't going to go away, this is what family times together are going to be like, and they're going to have to adjust to that. Bringing your kids now means that when the kids are getting bigger and easier to interact with, those family members will see that as a positive change. Those relatives need to learn what the new normal is, and you may as well start now. You could even bring that up explicitly - "I know this isn't our first family gathering with you as a granny, but it sure is different now! Sometimes I feel as if Uncle Jeff isn't ready for that change, can you help me make sure he knows what he's getting into spending a week at the cabin with preschoolers? I know he'll adjust eventually, but it's hard when he (example - is unwilling to pause adult conversations when the kids need something) It's great spending time with you and grandpa one on one but I'm worried that with everybody there we'll end up in kid-family and child-free segregation, and that's not really what I want." Then say what you *do* want, and what each person can do to help make that happen. For example "Oh, cousin, so great to see you!! I want to catch up this week, I really want to hear about your XYZ, I know there's some stories there. Because of kiddos, I won't be easy to track down, and I won't be able to spend a lot of time just hanging out. You can come hang out with us while we build sand castles - most of our conversation will be about not eating sand, but it would be nice to spend time together anyway. Just make sure that when there's a quiet moment, we remember to talk about XYZ, because I want to hear."
posted by aimedwander at 7:46 AM on May 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

As someone who finds the fairly new concept of 'kid-oriented activities' to be a dystopic development in society, I say go. Kids are not aliens who deserve a whole separate dumbed-down, hyperactive-onslaught, 'fun'-filled category of activity, and I don't think that approach has done anything good for the humans who lived through that kind of division of human experience either.

But yes, I grew up in and am still part of a culture where kids were always just part of the story, never separate from it, in a warm chaotic extended family (in the US), with no special sacrosanct kid-routines, or special food, or special kid-bedtimes, so I am biased. But if you like your extended family and think it might be quality time in some form, why not try to integrate the kids into whatever the scene is, and everyone can just deal with it?
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 8:15 AM on May 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

As to this question:

How can we talk to relatives about this issue?

I think there needs to be a mutual understanding:

You understand that your relatives are under no obligation to provide entertainment or care for your children;
They understand that this is not a child-free event, your primary responsibility is care for your children, and that means you won't always be as available for grown-up conversation as they'd like.

If those don't already exist as unspoken expectations, make them explicit.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:23 AM on May 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

Kids are not aliens who deserve a whole separate dumbed-down, hyper-active-onslaught, 'fun'-filled category of activity

100% agree. My siblings and I were brought up in a similarly-warm and chaotic family, where as children, we ate whatever the adults were having, made a mess, and played our own games within the company of adults. There were no kid-oriented activities, just fun play time with other kids. And it sounds like the vacation homes are outdoors -- beach, sand, woods, where there is loads to explore! I agree that having a baby might make this tough, but I don't really understand the whole culture of making all activities and holidays revolve around babysitting and entertaining toddlers.

Additionally, your post sounds like you actively resent adults catching up and talking and doing adult-things. Adults are people too! I hope that's not how you feel -- if a relative expected me to help out with babysitting in an extended family vacation, beyond keeping a general eye out for whatever the kids were doing, I would be pretty put-off. I would gladly help out if I felt like it, but I should not be expected to provide a free entertainment service. And this me is speaking as a 15-week pregnant lady.

I think your expectations are too high. Family trip with consideration for kids is reasonable, family trip that is kid-oriented is taking the kid priority too far.
posted by moiraine at 8:34 AM on May 10, 2017 [15 favorites]

Parent of littles here. As a parent I now weigh trips based on how fun they will be for my kids, and how much work they will be for my hubby and I. Children exist in the world, and people who don't have children have found a way to make peace with their existence, so I don't worry too much about whether my kids will be a "burden" unless we're talking about a formal event, like a wedding, or visiting someone in their sick bed.

I think it's important for family who we don't see or talk with often to witness us as parents, so that they get a better understanding of our lives, and so they get to see how our children's lives are being shaped.

With that in mind, I say go on the trip. Try to arrange to stay in the house where the other baby is staying, if possible, to minimize distraction / discomfort for those family members who think that children should be seen but not heard. Don't expect anyone to provide help, but take it when it's offered. Maybe make an agreement with the family of the other baby to hire a babysitter for a day or two during the trip, or hire one yourself for your two older kids so that you get kind of a break by only having the baby to watch for a few hours.
posted by vignettist at 8:49 AM on May 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

As someone who loves playing with kids and spent hours playing with much younger cousins when my extended family would meet at my grandparent's growing up and then playing with my own nieces and nephews as an adult, I'm kind of boggled by adults who have zero interest in interacting with kids but I get that that is just how some people are.

As a parent of two small children, I've been on vacations like these recently and they are NOT relaxing or fun for me AT ALL. They are so much more work than it would be just hanging out at home. Especially when the kids are acting particularly toddler-y and are not meeting behavior expectations of the adults who either subtly or blatantly express disapproval. You know your family and yourself the best. If your kid won't go to sleep and is crying a lot and keeping the light-sleepers up, how will you feel about that? Will some people be expecting "good" behavior from the kids the whole time or will they be able to run around and have fun?

If one of the houses can be designated for "adults" mostly that would help a lot. Definitely don't expect anyone to help you. When we first had kids I put a lot of effort into making sure various family members got to see them and did a lot of visiting but I'm better at assessing now who's actually interested in interacting with my children vs. who feels like there's an expectation that the kids should like them based on a familial relationship.

Basically, if you're only going because it's "family" and you feel like you should, but don't think you or your kids will fun, skip it and go on a real vacation. The question I try to ask myself is- if this was just a group of people and there were no family expectations, would I want to go?
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 9:40 AM on May 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

If I had never been allowed to go to family reunions until I was grown, my extended family would have basically been strangers to me. As it is, I get to have a lot of happy childhood memories from those trips, and way more memories of my (scattered-around-the-country) family, including memories of my grandparents before they died. I can't really understand a mindset of isolating children from their own family because "they're annoying."

You could always hire a babysitter at the reunion for part of the time.

(And another baby is already coming? That makes me think this issue might be largely in your head...)
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:12 AM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

As someone who finds the fairly new concept of 'kid-oriented activities' to be a dystopic development in society, I say go. Kids are not aliens who deserve a whole separate dumbed-down, hyperactive-onslaught, 'fun'-filled category of activity, and I don't think that approach has done anything good for the humans who lived through that kind of division of human experience either.

I mean, I also grew up in a culture that was not at all about catering to children. And while sometimes this was great! And meant I was exposed to very cool things! Sometimes it also meant that grandpa watched 12 hours of golf with the volume up so high that doing anything else, including reading, in the same room was impossible. Sometimes it meant being exposed to conversations that were inappropriate or scary. Sometimes it meant the cousins bullied each other when the grown-up's backs were turned.

In retrospect, that kind of culture also leaned very heavily on the unpaid labor of all the women, as well as, occasionally, older siblings--which might not be available in OP's family. And only worked in part because of authoritarian parenting styles that I'm not eager to reproduce in my own family, personally. Un-napped, bored children are beastly, especially if you happen to get a picky child who prefers only white food despite your best efforts to inculcate them to higher cuisine and culture.

I don't think anyone here is saying that every meal should be at Chuck-E-Cheese, just that a kid's needs (physical, emotional) and interests should be taken into account in this kind of environment, just like anyone else's would be. Aunt Mildred is not going to go along with Grandpa's plans to spend 8 hours gawking at war planes at a historical museum, so kids shouldn't be expected to just hush up and be quiet while grown-ups talk politics for several hours after a fancy dinner when it's way past bedtime, either.

Some flexibility on the part of the grown-ups here not only will make things much better for the kids, but also much better for whoever it is who will have to deal with their overtired, hungry bedtime-in-a-new place tantrums, too. Which again, is usually (but not always) the mom.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:15 AM on May 10, 2017 [24 favorites]

Nthng phobiwankenobi- it's ok to continue to value your children's version of fun and look after their nap times and eating schedules, even when other people think that it makes you overly fussy or rigid. You know how to look after your kids so I think it's important to value that and not be overly pressured into fitting in with other people at the cost of doing what you know is right for small children. This might just mean you stay at home- I would encourage you to work this out in your own mind (can this holiday work for your kids?) and just stick to it when you get there. I wouldn't bother discussing it with others because people tend to either feel that they should/want to help and accomodate, or not. Usually based on how recently they had kids themselves, tbh, though there are exceptions there of course.
posted by jojobobo at 4:50 PM on May 10, 2017

Also, to the suggestion that all kids need is a beach and other kids (etc)- that is a kid-oriented holiday! There are many more difficult versions of family holiday than this. I think people maybe don't realise how much their own childhood holidays DID accomodate their needs, in retrospect. Holidays that don't suit kids include no other children, no play equipment, no separate space for naps, no kitchen to warm bottles/baby purees, or expectations of long days spent in upmarket restaurants/galleries ect. Lots of lovely adult holidays are entirely unsuitable for kids, which doesn't mean that they can't continue to survive but it does mean that the parents lives will be hellish, and that the kids are really not having their child needs met either.
posted by jojobobo at 4:56 PM on May 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

If your family is strongly generational, i.e. these kids are the first kids that your family has seen since you and your cousins were all (simultaneously) small 30 years ago, then this is a difficult time, because nobody knows how to act. Your mom knows how to be an aunt and a mom but not a grandma simultaneously, your aunts and uncles have been trained to think of your generation as adults and talk about politics and work and they are happy not to know who the Backyardigans are, there's your old cousin-and-sibling posse who have progressed from being the kids to being the cool teenagers to being the younger generation (hey let's take off after family dinner and go to the bar). And the next step in that progression is all being parents together, but if you're on the leading edge of that younger generation, then you've got family who haven't settled into new roles yet. But it will happen.
posted by aimedwander at 7:36 AM on May 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

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