Adapted from an online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My partner's children, who are in middle school, will spend most of their spring break with us. (They mostly live with their mom.) It's also my spring break — I'm a teacher — and will be the first time my partner and I have had synced vacations since moving in together.
My partner has planned an extremely kid-centric vacation, to a place where most of the activities will revolve around the boys' interests, which makes total sense, but he doesn't want to plan anything he thinks is age-inappropriate. For example, he was uncomfortable with my suggestion that we spend part of one day wine-tasting, which we both love and mostly do when the kids aren't around.
When I was a kid, our parents planned adult-centric vacations and we entertained ourselves or learned to enjoy whatever our parents were doing. I get that that's an unpopular parenting philosophy these days. I get that my expectations of enjoying a vacation with him will have to adjust to include the kids, but spending almost five straight days doing only kid stuff is beginning to feel like a thankless chore.
I am wondering whether there's a way to back out without seeming like a party pooper, or if I should push back on my partner's insistence that we eliminate all adult fun on the trip.
Carolyn says: He doesn't live with his kids most of the time, so he's not going to sign on to the "We do adult things sometimes and the kids can just amuse themselves" program. We can argue about whether this ultimately serves the kids — and I do see the value of mixing kid- and adult-centric options — but that's probably moot. He gets rare kid immersion here, and you can bet he's feeling the emotional twinge of knowing they won't be kids much longer. When they're middle schoolers is usually when that hits.
By all means, have a general, thematic conversation about more varied spring-break activities — but after you've already built in some stuff you want to do on your own for this vacation. You're all going away, right? Then research some side excursions just for you. You can also arrive a day late or leave a day early — and plan a wine-tasting with your friends. That way you'll come at the conversation with a totally different attitude.
Think about it: If you treat his plan for the kids as the one you must also follow, lockstep, then asking him to change it won't just be about making you happier. You're also challenging his judgment on what's right for his family. And you're introducing a me-vs.-kids tug-of-war over his priorities.
If instead you have a happy plan that's part going along with his, and part branching out on your own, then you're merely asking him to engage with you in a philosophical discussion about what makes for a good family vacation as his kids grow into adulthood.
There is another option entirely, too: Skip the whole conversation and see this is as last-hurrah territory for him. Seriously. Stuff is changing for all of them — and for you — fast.
Dad and the kids might benefit from some "just them" time, too.
Carolyn says: Amen.
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