What do our holidays do for our children?
So, I have been a bit quiet over the past two weeks. My family has been enjoying our annual family trip to the UK. We have stayed with my mother-in-law in her 500 year-old thatched Dorset cottage, spent a week camping in a field in Wales, visited my sister and her husband who live in one of the most exclusive resorts in the south of Spain and we are now sitting in my Mum and Dad's cottage in Kent whilst it pours with rain. The kids have loved it all, and there have been some amazing family moments, but as far as creating memories goes, there was something pretty special about waking up, all five of us, in a tent, in a meadow in Wales, in the driving rain. The kids spent their days racing around on their bikes with their cousins (mostly in the mud), pushing each other around in wheelbarrows, running around naked on a fairly cold beach, having sandy picnics, flying kites, eating ice creams. The simple stuff.
It made me think quite a bit about what we teach our kids from the holidays that we take. For many of us, our holidays are one of our biggest discretionary spends. Our children get a lot of unspoken messages about our values and expectations around money when we are away from home. They observe our consumption choices much more closely. There are lessons learnt from the decision to sit in first-class, business or economy; the decision to stay at a luxury hotel or on a camp site; the decision to eat at fine restaurants or Pizza Express.
And let me say, there is absolutely no judgement implied here in terms of what you choose. The point is that our choices around how we spend our vacation time should emanate from a thoughtful assessment of the consequences of those decisions.
Can you sit in first-class or travel by private jet, and still raise children that don't have a sense of entitlement, remain independent, have confidence in themselves, are happy, well-adjusted and able to live successful and purposeful lives? I think you can if there are family discussions around your choices. Family business finance expert Francois de Visscher wrote, "I've told my kids, we're fortunate. It may not be there tomorrow, but while we have it wealth creates opportunities, as well as huge responsibilities vis à vis people who don't have what you have, and how you conduct yourselves in life."
I love this article about what children need and want from a family holiday. Child psychologist Dr James says that children's pleasures remain really very simple until they hit their teens. He says that introducing them to new experiences and seeing the world is not beneficial to them when they are young. What they want, according to Dr James, is "a reasonably warm, but not too hot, beach with calm waves and ice cream nearby".
He goes on to write:
“Between the ages of five and 10 they can become very attached to one place, where they can be sure of what they will like and what they won’t. Sitting on the same donkey, eating the same ice cream at the same café... These familiar places and activities are the ones that forge their happiest memories.”
It's interesting food for thought. If I look honestly at the pleasure my kids have gained from this trip, I would say they have most enjoyed being in familiar places, my mother-in-law's house and my parent's house, places they come back to each year. I certainly agree with kids wanting a "reasonably warm, but not too hot, beach with calm waves and ice cream nearby". The beaches in Wales fit that description perfectly, and they were more energised running around on those beaches than they were in Spain, in one of the most affluent resorts in the south of the country (and certainly a place where we spent considerably more money!).
It's easy to justify spending money on an extravagant holiday because of the quality time in enables you to spend with your children, but it's worth remembering the beach and ice cream. The memories from that, year after year, will last a lifetime. And after all, there is no correlation between money spent and memories made.
“There is so much change in children’s lives today,” says Dr Oliver. “We move schools and houses, we experience countless new things. A familiar, recurring holiday spot can sometimes be the only anchored thing in a child’s life – a safe and predictable place in a shifting universe.”