Does your child whine and groan at the prospect of an exotic family vacation? Share Blumer's insights into why children hate change (the loss of control) and how parents can offer them enough independence to adjust to new surroundings.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my kid. At home she is funny, curious, smart and great to be with. She is also, alas, pure hell to travel with.
God knows we’ve tried. She loves animals, so we took her to the beautiful Dordogne in France to live on a farm. She hated the drive from Paris, she hated the food and, most of all, she hated that she couldn’t talk to other children. We took her to St. Paul, Minnesota, which advertises itself as “Kid’s Paradise”. She loved the amusement park in the Mall of America but is still fuming because we spent an hour in a history museum. Finally we tried Niagara Falls, with its streets of video arcades. She would be sure to love it. Wrong. The complaints got so loud that we left a day early.
So were we going to give up traveling with our bundle of joy? Would we invite Grandma to sit on her at home while we took in the pleasures of Vienna’s Museum of Armor or sampled turtle sushi in Tokyo in a blissful, childfree environment? No. We figured we only had a few years before the onset of sullen adolescence. We would find some fun way of traveling with our kid — if it killed us!
In desperation, I searched my memory cells for how I felt about traveling when I was young. I suddenly remembered what an ordeal it was traveling with my own parents. They had a fondness for long car trips through the Maritime provinces in Canada. I loathed being dragged around to all those historical sights in which I had absolutely no interest. I hated being too hot, or too cold or forced to wear itchy pants. I sullenly sat in the back seat of the car resolutely not looking out of the window at the quaint fishing villages or the historical monuments. I wouldn’t have dared ask my father when we were going home, but I thought it with all my might.
What I hated most about traveling (and what that little terror following in my genetic footsteps obviously hates as well) was the loss of control. Loss of control over what I going to do, going to eat and of what was going to happen next. At any moment I could be asked to spend a few hours being completely bored, or hungry, or made to climb stairs, or be subjected to any number of horrors that adults are capable of inflicting on children. For me, vacations became an ordeal where I had to do absolutely everything my parents wanted me to do to every second of the day. No wonder I was anxious to get home.
This sad tale does have a happy ending — sort of. I decided to take the brilliant insights into my past self and apply them to this year’s vacation. I determined to transform what had always been a battle of wills into a pleasant time for all. Since the main problem in traveling with our daughter was clearly one of control, we decided to choose a situation where she would have a great deal of say in doing what she wanted to do and, more importantly, where she was not being forced to do what we wanted. We could have chosen a cruise with a children’s program, or any number of resorts, but we decided to play it safe and picked a family-friendly Club Med – The Sandpiper in Florida.
It worked. On the first few days our daughter enrolled herself in the camp program and on the last few days she happily explored the very protected area of the resort, participating only in those activities she found fun. The rest of the time she spent with other children looking for alligators in the river. She occasionally joined us for dinner, but most of the time ate in the children’s dining room. We saw her in the morning and at night and meanwhile we enjoyed reading, swimming, sailing and an occasion fling at circus school and roller blading lessons.
This is not the vacation we would have chosen to take. We would have enjoyed sharing with our daughter our love of Carthaginian ruins and had her taste couscous, but we have resigned ourselves that this is not to be, at least not in this millennium. So we compromised. We settled for a vacation free from both nagging and complaining.
In a few short years everything will have changed. Our daughter will have the freedom and joy of exploring the world alone or with friends, and we will be able to get back to serious traveling. Maybe we will meet up with her in Vienna at the Armor Museum, or cross paths in Tokyo, where she will happily share a turtle sushi with her aging parents.
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