*This article is a work of nonfiction based on actual events recounted to me by a friend who witnessed them firsthand; used with permission
Having fun on vacation matters just as much to parents and kids, and when you're planning a vacation for your extended family and including several relatives, it's worth taking into consideration everyone's need to play and have a good time.
Is it fair to take trips with more families expecting older kids to watch out for the youngest, or should all of them get time away from school and avoid becoming babysitters?
My friend Alex has been married to her husband Tom for 18 years. During this time, they've always worked very hard and planned one vacation each year, taking several families with them. This has become a family tradition for them, and they couldn't imagine having to go only with their kids, two daughters, and a son.
"It's something that defines us. This one trip we take each year with our in-laws, my sisters-in-law, my brother-in-law, and my three sisters and their families is essential to keeping in touch. It's hard to know what goes on in their lives the rest of the time since we don't live close by. So, as soon as vacation starts, we relax and talk about everything without having to worry about cooking or jobs," Alex said.
In the beginning, it was easier to organize this because not every sibling was married. After all of them started their own families and became parents, they needed to come up with solutions for the kids too.
"It wasn't like we could make them be quiet. Kids will shout and play all the time, and that's not always relaxing. My parents and my in-laws also came on the trips, and they looked after the kids when they were little, but time passed, and now they're older, and they can't handle every grandchild," Alex said.
The mom thought that her own kids growing up would bring a simple fix to their vacations. While all the kids in the family went through kindergarten, their trips were harder to handle. As they started going to school and then to high school, she began telling them it was time to watch their cousins and let the parents talk more and enjoy the outdoors.
What the mom didn't expect was her eldest daughter's reaction after she spent two vacations looking out for her cousins.
Hellen, Alex's daughter, feels her mom is taking advantage of her instead of paying for help, and she won't do it anymore.
"She should either pay me for it or just hire someone. Why would I give up on my whole vacation for no reward at all? I care about my cousins, but they're all a lot younger, and it's tiresome to always look at them playing and not get even one minute to myself. Our parents have more fun than I do. I'm not going on vacation for that again. I'd rather be home on my own and get some quiet," Hellen said.
Her mom is surprised she would feel that way and has tried to explain to her that being part of a bigger family will include moments like this.
"It's only logical for her to keep an eye on them. She won't go on vacation to look after her cousins; why would I pay to take her? The cost for her ticket and stay should be about family responsibilities once she's there too. And I'm not hiring someone if my own teen daughter is there. Why would I?" the mom said.
For now, Hellen is refusing to go on the next family vacation, and she's planning a fun time at home when everyone is gone. Her grandparents have talked to her about bonding with her cousins, but she won't look after them unless she gets paid for it.
How do you think this should be handled? Is it fair to expect Hellen to become a part-time babysitter on family vacations? Is it ok for her to ask for payment or to choose to stay home without any relatives?
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