When my children were younger, I used to hate family holidays. For me, they were the embodiment of everything I wished I wasn’t. They were messy, noisy, and crowded. And hot. My holidays were not the luxury kind on the deserted island in the Caribbean, or the sailing boat on azure waters, they were the sea holidays on the public beaches. Or the trip to Disney, or a tourist-ridden city.
Holidays with the extended family were even worse. Extended family meant more opinions, more opinion led to more disagreements, and more disagreements brought out age-old biases, hang-ups and grudges.
In other words, my family holidays were nothing to write home about.
And I’m not even mentioning the bit where we lose the children! One of my children is quite the wanderer, and I have lost him in the crowds more times than I care to remember or mention.
Mostly what I remember most about family holidays is fights with my husband. If he slept five minutes extra, if he did not watch the kids, if he gave them an extra ice-cream…I begrudged that fact that he seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously while I was working! Tidying, cleaning, feeding, giving baths and showers.
Once, four days into one vacation, I told my husband what a horrible person he was to go on a family trip with and was surprised to hear him vocalize that I was not too much fun myself, horrible too even. After which, funnily enough, we started getting on quite well. I realized, there and then, that I was the problem. I wasn’t relaxed. I was moving my home situation to another place, still with rules and regulations, instead of just letting go and moving with the flow. The only person stopping me from enjoying my holiday was myself. It was time for a change of mindset.
Family holidays, I realized, were not about me, they were about us, as a unit, as a family. On a recent holiday to Jordan, I had the pleasure of spending the night with all four of my boys (husband included, the dog had to stay at home) in a tent. There were socks, shoes, underwear, not to mention sand, all over the place. The same scene, a few years ago, would have driven me out of my tent and onto the nearest camel out of the desert. Instead, I cherished every argument and laughed the loudest at every joke. In other words, I just relaxed. We came back from our night in the desert more bonded than ever.
Which is why, I think, people continue to take family holidays despite them being fraught with disagreements and tension half the time. They are, in fact, an investment, a chance to see how everyone copes in a strange situation, if they bond or if they fall apart: I call it a stress test for the family’s heart. At the end of it, everyone is happy to go home and after a while, as the bad memories fade away like a helium balloon slowly delving into the sky, as they naturally always do, all you are left with are the pictures and the memories of the good times. And you get to chuck in a big gold coin in the piggy bank that is your family.