Holiday blues: How to cope when the kids ditch the family trip

It’s the moment every parent dreads. After years of happy family holidays, your teenage son or daughter decides enough is enough, and they’re simply not coming this year. My eldest son has just entered his twenties, and last year was the first time he didn’t join us on holiday as he was unable to get time off from his summer job. The same is true this year and while I would have loved if he had been able to fly to the sun with us, I understand that a trip with his friends will be more appealing as I felt the same at his age.

To compensate, we’ve had a couple of family weekends and I have no doubt that, at some point in the future, a holiday will again be on the cards. But for now, he is doing his own thing.

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And with my middle son having just completed his Leaving Cert, I’m thankful that he and his younger brother (14) are coming away with us as who knows what next year will bring.

But deciding whether or not to allow your teen to opt out of the family holiday can cause tension – as mother of three children aged 16, 14 and 11, Dubliner Anne Hassett can attest to.

“When I was booking the family holiday, my eldest daughter said she didn’t want to come, but I included her anyway as I figured once it was all arranged, it would be fine,” she says. “But she is kicking up such a fuss and literally refusing to come.

“Every day, we have arguments about it, with plenty of door slamming and tears. My husband says I should just allow her to stay at one of her friends’ houses for the fortnight as he believes she will ruin the holiday for the rest of us if we make her come. But I feel she is behaving disrespectfully.”

Anne doesn’t want to leave her daughter behind, but is finding herself running out of options.

“I know a lot of people think I’m being over-protective, but I don’t think 16 is old enough to opt out of the family holiday,” she says. “She initially wanted to be left in the house by herself, but I know only too well what would go on if she had the run of it.

“Now she has asked to stay with her best friend and while I’m still not happy with it, I’m just exhausted with all the rowing, so I am probably going to give in.

“Mind you, I’m very disappointed as when I was her age, I would never have carried on like this. And it makes me sad that she has grown apart from us all.”

Joanna Fortune, family psychotherapist and author of 15 Minute Parenting, says when faced with a reluctant teenager, parents should insist they take part in family trips but perhaps make some concessions.

“It’s the worst way to start a holiday as you are demanding your teen do something they don’t want, so they will respond by withdrawing and ignoring everyone,” she says. “This will be frustrating and cause tension, but if your teen is young and you feel it’s appropriate, then do bring them, but consider things from their point of view also.

“Consider activities which ensure they are entertained and show them you want them to have fun. And if you don’t want them on their phones all the time, reach a compromise where they can catch up with everyone online at set times. Also suggest a pizza party before you leave and another on your return which will make the separation and reunification between friends smoother.”

But psychotherapist Stella O’Malley – author of Cotton Wool Kids – says bringing reluctant teenagers on holiday might be futile. “I think some parents need to check their own motivation in situations like this, as if they insist on infantilising their children, they will smother the natural love that already exists,” she advises. “I was that teenager who went unwillingly on holiday – and it was a nightmare for everyone.”

Child psychologist Peadar Maxwell says the age at which a young person can independently go on holidays or stay home alone is dependent on firstly their age but also their maturity levels.

“We might think of 18 as the magic year when a child suddenly becomes capable of minding themselves and while that may be true for some, it could be frightening for others,” he says. “So if your teen is not coming on holiday or going away independently, discuss safety issues and talk about the availability of alcohol and drugs.

“Also, if they are travelling abroad, encourage them to notice different rules and laws and educate them about where they will be going.”

Once it has been established that your teenager isn’t taking part in the family holiday, Joanna Fortune says parents need to lay down some ground rules.

“If you’ve agreed that your teenager isn’t coming, make suitable arrangements for who they are staying with or who is going to pop by to check in with them,” she advises. “Yes, it is sad when the traditional family holiday doesn’t include everyone, but consider that you have raised a mature teenager who is independent as a job well done.”

Helen Nolan left her 19-year-old son home alone last year and says while he won’t join them this summer either, she has come to terms with it.

“We left our eldest in charge of the house when we went away last July and while I was initially a bit concerned, not to mention sad, my parents kept an eye on him and he asked me to trust him, so I gave in,” she says.

“Of course, it felt like the end of an era as it was the first time all six of us wouldn’t be together on holiday, but it’s part of life.

“He won’t be coming to Italy with us this month either, but will join us in the Canaries for a week at the end of October, so I am absolutely delighted about that. It’s inevitable that our children will move on with their lives, but as long as we do our best to arrange some time together, I think I can live with that.”

Psychotherapist Stella O’Malley agrees: “Sometimes parents feel panicked that the family haven’t had enough holiday memories or haven’t had enough joy to feel able to say goodbye to that chapter of their lives, but the great thing about having children is that the end of every phase brings the beginning of a new one.

“So the era of the teenagers coming on holidays might be finishing and, yet, still to come is the era of the family as adults enjoying their holidays together, and the era of the grandchildren joining them on holidays. If you grasp too tightly to love, you will squash it. It is usually better to have some flexibility around your relationships.”

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