The Best of Companions


“The Best of Companions”

New Choices, March 2000

A year ago December, our family decided to take a new approach to vacations. I went with my 25-year-old daughter, Margot, to Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. While we indulged ourselves at the spa, my husband Dick and our 27-year-old son Andrew headed to Florida to visit his aunt and enjoy warm weather and deep sea fishing. At the spa, I met a 50-ish attorney with his twentysomething son and daughter; his wife despises such decadent pampering so she went to the Midwest to visit her mother. Another woman came alone--her husband had taken their two daughters skiing.

In divorced families, of course, such split vacations occur out of necessity. But it isn’t at all uncommon these days to find some intact families choosing to separate for vacations. In many cases, the split occurs along gender lines. For example, Don, married to my college pal Barbara, took each of their three sons on a special vacation when they graduated from college. Other times, though, special interests draw together fathers and daughters and occasionally,m mothers and sons. A friend of my daughter’s flew with her dad to Curacao to indulge their mutual passion for deep sea diving. My cousin Arthur and his 30-year-old daughter attended a skiing workshop at Mt. Snow in Vermont while his wife and two remained home.

A New Perspective
As our children become young adults and their careers and partners draw them to destinations around the globe, we search for ways to stay connected. Taking a trip together allows us to relate one-on-one, adult-to-adult. Sharing a love of skiing or scuba diving or hiking strengthens our bond. When Margot and I attended a weekend yoga workshop in Massachusetts, the six-hour drive home flew by as we talked yoga nonstop. We analyzed everything, from our teacher’s body, his hair style and his diction to what yoga means to us and how our involvement in it has affected our lives.

Traveling together gives us an opportunity to see each other in a different setting, which can shift our perspective. Not only have I begun to view Margot as a young woman with distinct attributes and talents--not just my little girl grown-up--but I gained a new appreciation for her when I saw her do the Headstand and the Wheel, two yoga poses beyond the capacity of my 55-year-old body. Naturally, I admire her strength and elasticity but I also recognize the seriousness and commitment it takes to achieve this level of skill. I sense, too, that she now views me as an interesting woman, not just “good ole Mom.”

When Dick took Andrew to Florida, ostensibly they went to visit Dick’s sister and see her new house. But Dick had a hidden agenda as well: He wanted to strengthen his relationship with Andrew and hoped the positive experience would compensate for the years in which he hadn't been able to spend enough time or energy on the relationship.

Dick allowed Andrew to set their itinerary, whether it was strolling down Collins Avenue in the South Beach of Miami or feasting on stone crab claws and key lime pie at Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant. Spending this time together allowed them to relate more candidly and leisurely. Later Dick told me, “Our relationship didn’t shift in an earth shattering way, but I sensed more openness between us.”

Dick learned, as did I, that vacations without both children present can actually be relaxing. After all, sibling rivalry cannot exist unless at least two siblings are present. When we instead vacationed two by two, none of us had the opportunity to regress into tired old roles. Of course there are pitfalls to these kinds of vacations, too (see “Tips for a Good Trip”) but it seems to me that there are effective ways to avoid problems.

Staying Connected
Another factor is that many young adults living on their own don’t have money to spare for a vacation. As midlife parents, many of us can afford to treat them. Although my friend Jane refers to herself as “Wallet Mom” and Dick questions whether we are “buying” our kids’ affection by offering them a vacation they can’t afford to refuse, the fact is, our sons and daughters want to maintain a positive connection with us as much as we yearn to stay connected with them. What’s wrong with bonding on a tropical isle, a mountain top, or at a yoga retreat?

Not only do we have an opportunity to share an adventure, but each time we talk about the experience, we re-live it and re-connect, deepening our bond. Margot and I still crack up about how she blanked out on my name at the yoga workshop and introduced me as “My mother Patricia”--the formal “John Hancock” on my name tag that I use only as a byline. To this day, Dick and Andrew reminisce about the assortment of characters they saw in South Beach.

Before long, our children will marry and have their own families. They won’t have the time or desire to travel with us.

But I will always possess the memory of those special weekends I shared with Margot. The good feelings those times generated linger on and on. And that’s something no one can take away--from me or from her.


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