We just got home from the most amazing holiday trip. What really made it stand out in my mind was the stark contrast to the majority of our other family trips. You know, the ones where you come home so depleted that it takes you days to recover: the exhausting travel, the kids being out of sorts, not sleeping well in a strange place/bed, and way too much talking.
This year, our Thanksgiving trip was the exact opposite. I came home feeling more relaxed, uplifted, and loved than before.
And I can promise you it’s not because we shipped the kids off and spent a week in Tahiti. It was just the perfect combination of great family times and love.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what made it so special. Partially just to understand, but also to boil it down so I can remind myself when our grown children come home to visit us. Especially if they have kids of their own.
Here is the recipe I came up with:
2 Loving Grandparents
My husband’s father and stepmother were amazingly gracious hosts. I never felt like myself, my husband, or the kids were a burden to have in their home for several days. I enjoyed every aspect of spending time with them. I loved watching them get down on my kids’ level and truly engage them. It was so natural. And they were so easygoing that if the kids didn’t say or do exactly the right thing, they just patiently corrected them.
Each evening when the kids went to bed,we spent hours having great adult conversations. Since we’ve shifted into the parent role ourselves, we compared notes on kids and child-rearing. We dished about all aspects of life and business. My favorite part was getting to hear more stories about their adventures running an international adoption agency. Filled with the details that they can share with us now that we’re not kids anymore.
It was in sharing the deeper aspects of our lives and personal stories that we all got closer, solidifying our bonds at this new stage.
2 Patient Parents
Being in such a great environment helped us remain calm as parents. It takes a real load off when you know that even if your kids act up, it’s not going to ruffle your parent’s feathers. And when we’re calm, the kids are calm.
And the side benefit for us, with a system that works smoothly, we can take our attention off the kids and enjoy each other as husband and wife.
2 Well-behaved Toddlers
At 2 and 4, the kids’ behavior is typically a crap shoot. But this trip was an exception. The circumstances all blended together perfectly to encourage good behavior. They were polite, saying “please” and “thank you” without prodding. They interacted easily with their grandparents, even enjoying one on one time with them without any coercion.
1 Child Friendly House
Being in a well set up and welcoming home is 1,000 times better than living in a single hotel room with 2 toddlers. Their house was surprisingly childproof – this means nothing breakable from 3 feet down. Seriously, their house was actually better set up for toddlers than our own home.
I know, I know: screen time. But… strategically used for transitions, Netflix on the iPad works like a charm.
Great Food and Lots of Wine
It was just a small bonus that my father and step-mother-in-law have taken professional cooking classes and love to drink good wine.
Having a completely flexible schedule was the best gift. Once Thanksgiving Day was behind us, there were no requirements of doing anything at any particular time. This let us all just take a break from the typical rush-rush-rush of our daily grind, and not running the kids around is always easier on them.
The second piece of this was when we did decide to go out, we did kid friendly things. So often, when we spend time with family that don’t also have young kids, we are expected to make the kids endure activities that aren’t appealing to them (think visiting wineries and shopping malls). Instead, we visited an amazing playground downtown, and walked along a scenic waterside park at the kids’ leisurely pace.
The Secret Sauce
What tied all of the flavors together was the secret sauce. We all love each other because we are family. But getting to know each other at a deeper level allowed us to develop a love based more in friendship and camaraderie than your typical parent-child relationship.
There is something magical about when your parents can appreciate who you’ve become. When they honor your new role as parents and validate your efforts to raise decent human beings. When they look you in the eye, and tell you how proud they are of you. And at once you are both parent and child, strong and soft.
All of these ingredients worked together seamlessly to create the most enjoyable holiday experience. It was refreshing and uplifting enough to easily overcome the exhaustion of traveling more than 10 hours each way in the car with toddlers.
I know that sometimes these ingredients are hard to find, but a couple of strategic tweaks to the recipe might result in a family tradition worth passing down for generations.