Parenting journalist and author of ‘New Old-Fashioned Parenting’ Liat Hughes Joshi shares her advice on how make the most of quality family time with all three generations on holiday.
"A trip together builds bonds, strengthens relationships and creates life long 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 (although I never quite managed it properly), how to play pooh sticks in streams and taught us what to pack in our ‘napsacks’ before heading for a hike up a fell or into the woods. Grandma introduced us to endless different card games and generally spoilt us rotten with our favourite 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 travelling 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, whilst there might be more mouths to feed, there will be more grown-up hands to lighten the load.
"12.5 million Brits went on a multi-generation holiday last year"
It is then unsurprising that more and more of us are buying into the benefits of the 3-Gen holiday, indeed according to a survey by Sainsbury’s Travel Insurance, 12.5million Brits went on one in 2014. A trip away together is an unrivalled way to build bonds, strengthen relationships and create the kind of memories that’ll last long, long after those bags have been unpacked back home. Like me, your kids might even still be reminiscing about it all some 30 odd years on.
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 potential to cause tension.
• If you don't get on so well normally, don't assume being on holiday will make relationships magically harmonious. If things could get fraught, consider 'together apart' accommodation options such as two lodges or apartments close to each other.
• 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.
• 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 your toddler jumping on their bed at 6am - again, think about accommodation that will temper this. Two smaller apartments, villas or cabins might cost more but will mean you can holiday together with less stress and everyone gets their own space to retreat to.
• Consider buying a thank you treat for your parents if they’ve paid for the holiday or are doing lots of babysitting – a spa treatment or a special meal out perhaps.
• 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?
About the author: Liat Hughes Joshi is a London-based parenting journalist and author. She has written for a range of national newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Huffington Post and Mother and Baby Magazine. Liat is the author of New Old-fashioned Parenting and How to Unplug Your Child, both published by Summersdale in 2015, as well as Raising Children: The Primary Years (Pearson/ Prentice Hall).