Life, Parenting

Are We There Yet?

Holiday Motel by Curtis Perry on flickr


No matter what happens, travel gives you a story to tell.
— Jewish Proverb 


If there’s one thing I’ve learned about travelling with kids, it’s that a trip with young ones is not really a ‘holiday’.  In fact I’d venture to say that there’s a marked difference between travelling, in general, and ‘holidaying’.  The former involves lots of leg-work, careful budgeting, the vacating of comfort zones, and at least some degree of adventurousness; the latter is far more likely to involve reclining, spending money with greater abandon, getting truly comfy, and remaining within a safe distance of refreshments (often included in the price) and other creature comforts.  My honeymoon – two weeks at a seaside resort in Mexico – was a holiday.  Herding my rowdy crew to museums, gardens, and other attractions along cobblestoned streets for three months later this year – while West keeps up with his day job in our rented apartments – will fall squarely in the category of travelling.

This isn’t to say that one of these options is superior to the other.  I’m not disparaging holidaymakers; having some time for R&R refreshes both body and soul, and having a relaxing holiday doesn’t always have to be mutually-exclusive from going away with kids…  Neither do I mean to imply that there’s something especially commendable about being someone whose most recent excursions have been, by-and-large, travelling trips rather than holidays.  If our budget allowed, I would definitely consider going somewhere warm for a week to lie on the beach, read, and sip cocktails while my boys played pool-side with the kids’ club – but seeing as we’re always saving up for travelling, that kind of sortie just hasn’t been possible.

It seems to me that there’s a parallel contrast between the occupations of grandparenting and parenting – the first is for fun, the second is ‘for realz’.  Grandparents can give the kids two servings of dessert, keep them up past their bedtimes, and offer endless horsey-rides.  If parents did that, they’d find themselves raising a bunch of unhealthy, grumpy, spoiled, brats.

Grandparenting, like holidaying, affords family members an opportunity to slow down and enjoy time together with loved ones; there’s no pressure to actually accomplish anything, because it’s understood that the value of together-time is in simply spending that time.  Grandparents have put in decades (as well as blood, sweat, and tears) in raising their own children, and the time they have with the next generation is blissfully free from those kinds of obligations.  They can focus on relationship because they’re not in charge of the results.  Holidays, too, are all about enjoying the place you’ve gone to, not about reaching the next destination.

Like travelling, parenting assumes a greater degree of responsibility; and there certainly is a great deal of pressure to do as much as possible with the time we’re given to accomplish our set tasks.  When we travel, we don’t sleep in and have a lazy breakfast before strolling out the door around midday (the same is true of parenting – no lazy mornings here!) – there are sights to see and things to do and we’d be loath to waste any of our time.  In travelling, we are mindful of the end goals; we don’t want to miss any of the main attractions – nor do we want to miss the trains, planes, or boats that get us there.

If holidaying/grandparenting is about relationship rather than results, travelling/parenting can be quite the opposite.  You only have to talk with people who’ve been travelling or parenting for a while to find that both activities can take rather a strain on their relationships.  When we’re focused on the next destination (the result), we can be quite callous about our relationships – just look at how many arguments occur around the simple act of navigating around a strange city (for the record, I did not *actually* throw the map out of the car…)!

As a traveller, it distresses me when I hear people say they’ve “done” a city or country.  It’s as if they’ve just got a list and they’re checking things off so that they never have to do them (or go there) again.  In fact, for some people travelling can become all about list-ticking:

That cathedral… TICK!

Those art galleries… TICK!

That famous landmark… TICK!

That museum… TICK!

That city… TICK!

And so on, and so on, and so on…

Unfortunately, the same may be said of parenting.  We can tend to put our heads down and rush through each stage in anticipation of the next one, missing the greatest delights in the process.  This is especially true of those early years, which can be so wearying.  Feeding little ones, walking slowly to accommodate short legs and the distractions of little pebbles and tickly grass, changing endless nappies – these are things that consume our time and energy when our kids are young, and we can be anxious to be done with these activities.

But grandparents don’t wish away the years.  In general, grandparents are besotted with their grandchildren and delight in all their phases.  Of course, the older generation do often find the younger ones tiring (especially if they’re involved in providing childcare or babysitting the little ones), but they still tend to be more philosophical about this stage in their grandchildren’s lives.  Grandparents understand, far better than we younger parents do, that “The days are long, but the years are short.”

So perhaps it’s time that we parents took a page from the grandparenting book.  Maybe it’s time to stop and smell the roses just a bit more.  Perhaps we should try to be holidaymakers instead of travellers for some of the time we spend in the land of Parenthood.

We parents of toddlers can either say, “Oh, I’ll breathe a sigh of relief when I don’t have to change another nappy!” or we can decide that we’re going to make each change-time count.  We can take the time to count the little piggies or ask our babies if they know where their belly-buttons are; we can cherish that cuddly nursing/bottle time before bed.

With our older kids, we could get hung up on what they’re wearing, how good their grades are, whether or not they’re making the team they ‘should’ be on, or how well they’re representing the family in public – or we could distance ourselves a little from the ‘results’ and focus more on building and maintaining our relationships with them while they’re figuring out their place in the world and exercising their individuality.

I’m definitely guilty of travelling through parenthood at times.  Goodness knows, life with kids isn’t always a picnic – but maybe, with a little effort, I can try to make it more of a holiday.