Claire Hailwood explores the realities of holidays with children and finds a way to survive
I was trying to book in a meeting at work recently when the other person suggested a date that I couldn’t do because I was on annual leave. My lovely colleague replied and said, ”I absolutely don’t want to disturb your holiday – I want you to enjoy the relaxation time to its fullest”.
I chuckled quietly to myself.
The truth is, as a parent and carer, for the last 15 years, any time we’ve been away with children has been full, with moments of joy, adventure, pleasure and delight, full of memories that are rich and long lasting.
But relaxing? Not a chance.
Because it’s also been full of the usual sleeping challenges (and when children wake crying in the night in a tent it’s decibels louder than anywhere else), bickering children, increased demands for snacks and the desire to be entertained. They’re exhausting.
Lots of it I wouldn’t change for the world, because it’s part of the season of life we’ve been in, but I’d be lying if I said that I ‘wouldn’t change a thing’. I’d LOVE a lie-in on holiday, a chance to read more than a page of a book without someone need something from me, a sunbathe on a beach sounds dreamy (without having to be buried in the sand), and the thought of time alone with my husband – heaven!
Holidaying with children is doing life with them in a different place. It’s not a ‘holiday’ in the conventional sense.
And that’s OK if we don’t expect it to be different because that’s where we can come unstuck.
My husband grew up camping with his family. I did not because my parents loved me.
However, when you have as many children as we do at any one time, if you want a holiday, then it’s likely to be under canvas (and though I joke, I recognise my privilege in being able to do even this). My husband sold it to me brilliantly – all the children will play together outside, they’ll make friends, there’ll be days out playing on the beach and evenings on the camp site with a beer and a book while everyone just laughs and enjoys one another.
He may not remember describing it in precisely those terms but that’s how I heard it and therefore what I expected.
There’s some truth in there. Children do make friends and play with one another. When the sun shines (or even just when it isn’t raining) there’s loads of chance to play outdoors and there was the occasional evening where I had a beer in my hand and a book. Ish.
Except by the time we’d convinced the children to be somewhere near bed it was dark and the lamps that we had were so pathetic that they couldn’t light the page up sufficiently to read it and I was so tired from the day’s activities that I took to my bed too!
And then of course someone needs the toilet…
We have only ever camped in the UK. The utopia I pictured didn’t include rainy days in England when all the children and us would be inside our tent which is sold as an eight man but feels so small when arguments about UNO* start to happen and there’s nowhere for anyone to storm off to (mainly me).
More than once I’ve spent precious minutes alone on a holiday wondering whether the numbers would add up to allow for an Airbnb for one in addition to the campsite for the others. They never quite do…
But I have learned important things over the years. And while I will never be a fan of camping (despite the whole family loving it – sometimes I think it’s deliberate) and resolving that when they’ve all moved on, I will never go again, if I’m honest I think that some of my problem is not so much about the holidaying itself but my expectations.
If my expectation is that my experience will be instagramable at every point, with children dressed in matching outfits and consistently getting on, then I’m putting unfair expectations on them and setting myself up for disappointment.
If I go expecting to read a book a day (as I would when I go away without children) then when I barely manage a page I’m going to be annoyed and likely take it out on my family.
And one of the things that this raising children malarkey consistently teaches me is that my life is not my own. If my focus for holidays is all about what I can get, especially when what I’d like is more akin to a luxury holiday in the Maldives (that I’ve never had!) rather than a campsite in Cornwall, I’m going to miss the moments of joy for this season.
Jesus invites us to lay down our lives for one another, to deny self, to consider others before ourselves. I’m not saying you must go camping to do that, but I recognise that holidaying with kids is another opportunity to practice that. And when I changed my expectations, adjusted my perspective, allowed God to change my heart (some more) I found more joy in the holiday than I had before.
So this summer you’ll find us camping for our longest ever stretch of two weeks. I still don’t love camping. I still find holidays with children tiring (even as they get older). I would still rather be holidaying somewhere else.
But I’ve set my expectations appropriately and that means I look for and create moments of joy and memory making opportunities whenever I can. I take one book instead of five and am delighted when I get to read that. My husband and I have started gifting one another hours on our own throughout the holiday which I bask in in order to go back to sword fighting and TikTok creating on the beach with a fuller heart.
And most of all? I practice gratitude that I get to raise these kids, to be part of their core memories, to be away from home and able to buy the odd ice cream out.
And on rainy days when the UNO wars still rage? This too shall pass…
*The card game