A new report in Britain has found that multi-generational holidays are on the rise “as parents de-stress by bringing older family members along to babysit”. Woah! How much of that sentence makes me want to punch the wall?
It gets worse. The very appropriately named Stubborn Mule Travel declares that, “if you are paying [for the grandparent to come], then it’s generally acknowledged that mutually agreeable, free childcare comes part and parcel of this kind of multi-generational holiday”. Never mind that grandparents are, in my experience, the ones paying, they need to de-stress as much as the parents.
We all know how some grandparents are emotionally blackmailed into formal childcare commitments. “They’re so happy when they’re with you and I don’t trust anyone else to look after them.” Translation: “Anyone else costs money.” The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren should be different: fun, subversive — unqualified love and conspiracies (“Don’t tell Mum you had chips”). But these put-upon grannies and grandpas find themselves disciplining, shuttling and supervising — just like parents.
Here’s the reason for the menopause. Your body is saying: “That’s it, for childcare.” If I wanted to be a domestic servant, I’d call myself Mary Poppins. And many of us still have jobs. I’m a working grandmother, riddled with guilt that I don’t see the grandchildren enough. So going away on holiday means everyone has a chance to catch up.
We are more than happy to get involved. My grandparents snoozed in a deckchair, with a knotted hankie on their heads, but my generation joins in. I swim and surf with my two youngest grandchildren in Australia. But everyone is happier if there are some “mutually agreeable” rules.
I’ve always insisted on my own bedroom when we go away, for example. With a lock. I don’t want to share with a toddler or a teenager, and nor will I read stories at 5.30am. I also think it’s a good idea to suggest dividing your holiday time into three: a third looking after the grandchildren; a third all together as a family; and a third of the time to yourself. If you’re on your own, there’s an assumption that your time is their own. But you don’t have to spend every minute together. I make my own plans and sometimes hire a car.
Then there’s the commitments we grandparents should make. Never say, “Is it me, or has he got a squint?” You may end up with a heavily bitten tongue. It’s important to get fit, too. Young children have hefty equipment — pushchairs, car seats, trikes. They expect you to play beachball. Train for a family holiday as you would for the Olympics — or you’ll put your back out playing beach cricket on day one.
I’ve tried to introduce my grandchildren to the things I loved as a child — skimming stones, building sandcastles, exploring rock pools and (my particular favourite) collecting shells and sticking them on boxes. They’re unlikely to look up from their phones but I still enjoy myself.
Quoting T S Eliot, the Duchess of Cornwall, a grandmother, said recently: “The years between 50 and 70 are the hardest: you are always being asked to do things, but are not decrepit enough to turn them down.” But if you’re honest (“Love to come away with you, but I want a holiday, too — not a holiday job”) hopefully, you might find yourself asking, “Same time next year?”
Jan Etherington is a British writer, journalist and a TV producer