I’ve just returned from two marvelous weeks with my family in South America. We went to Buenos Aires, Patagonia and Santiago. After lots of family vacations with our kids as they were growing up, we knew the five of us could travel together. But now they’re all married. So it was a new experience to travel in a group of eight. While the trip is still fresh in my mind, I’ll share my reflections on our vacation with adult kids.
Trip of a lifetime
I’d dreamed of traveling to Patagonia for a long time. I wanted to see the glaciers and experience the incredible scenery and wildlife. To marvel at condors, guanacos and penguins. My husband and I felt privileged to take our three grown children and their spouses on this amazing journey.
We weren’t sure how things would work out, what with the eight of us spending so much time together. But folks were excited to give it a try. There were bumpy moments – usually when fatigue or personality quirks got the better of us. But for the most part, everyone had a terrific time.
Patagonia is truly remote. Other-worldly. People in our group took amazing photos. But photos can’t communicate the totality of the experience. In a word, it’s awesome – meaning that it causes you to experience awe when you try to take it all in.
Two weeks with the family
My children left home for college several years ago. They often had summer jobs in other cities. Now our family covers all four time zones in the continental US.
These two weeks in South America represented more time than I’d spent with the three kids together in years. More time than I’d spent with their spouses. More than the eight of us had spent together before. And probably a longer time than we’ll spend together again. Ever.
Families, jobs, schedules
But I myself was conscious of how precious our time together was. I thought about it every single day.
Goals for my vacation with adult kids
In addition to seeing lots of amazing places, I hoped the trip would benefit our family relationships.
Welcome the spouses
I wanted our children’s spouses to feel loved and accepted into our family. I hoped we’d create shared memories that would draw the eight of us together.
Foster connections between sibling couples
From my midlife vantage point, I know how hard it can be to stay connected to your siblings over the years. I wanted these two weeks to help our adult children enjoy each other’s company. And also to forge bonds among the three couples.
I hoped they’d set foundations for ongoing relationships with each other, with or without me.
Enjoy my family
My personal goal was to enjoy spending time with my family. I wanted to relish the experience of being with my adult kids and to get to know their spouses better.
In all, we met these goals – at least as well as I can tell. Time will reveal how relationships grow and change. But I feel good about how we’ve started the process.
Without a doubt, I met my personal goal of enjoying my kids and their spouses. They made sure to spend time with me, and I loved being with them.
My thoughts and feelings about this vacation with adult kids clustered around a few themes.
They’re all grown up
Of course, there was a bit of good-natured teasing and/or reversion to old sibling roles. But overall, my kids are delightful, independent, mature young people.
For example, as children or teens, they would look to my husband and me to determine each day’s agenda. This time they came up with ideas for what they might do and then invited us to join them.
Our foodie son researched restaurants and made reservations. This was a huge service to the group. We had dinner plans nearly everywhere we went, and we enjoyed some wonderful meals. Although he maintained he liked investigating our food options, it still was a lot of work. We all benefited from his passion and investment of time.
Even though everyone is now self-sufficient, I still couldn’t help acting like a mom. I traveled with a supply of snacks, a first aid kit, Dramamine and cold medicine. As it turned out, most of my “mom things” got used, so I was happy I’d brought them.
They’re so smart
Dinner conversation was far from shallow. People might have discussed the day’s highlights. But they were just as likely to mull over politics, theology, race or income inequality. One of my sons was reading Fear.* My daughter was reading White Fragility.* In contrast, I was reading a book about a diet I was thinking of trying.
Judging from our vacation reading, my kids got their intellectual depth from their dad! Ok, I exaggerated: I was also doing some less-shallow reading in addition to my diet book. I was enjoying Becoming* by Michelle Obama.
But still, the six young people maintained an intensity of discussion I couldn’t match – certainly not after a long day of traveling. In all, these highly educated, deep-thinking young people were an intimidating bunch.
My kids married well
I still can’t believe they’re all married. I was just getting used to them being college graduates. Their transitions from teenagers to husbands or wife had happened so fast. When had I gotten old enough to become a mother-in-law three times over?
But now each of my children has a life partner. Because my older son started dating his wife in high school, I’d had a chance to get to know her. But my other children met their spouses at college. And now they live in different states, so we’ve had only short amounts of time together so far.
This trip was a wonderful opportunity to become better acquainted with my son- and daughters-in-law. I also got to observe how they and my children are around each other. It helped me appreciate for myself how each one’s spouse “completes” him or her.
It’s their time now
My kids never wanted their parents directing their lives. The three of them always preferred to form their own opinions, make their own decisions. But now there’s no question that they’re the ones in charge of themselves.
Oh, I can make suggestions. And they appreciate the help my husband and I are able to give them. But they’re doing fine on their own. And I’m thankful for it.
My children and their mates are making carefully-considered decisions about education, career, where they want to live and the type of life they want to have. It’s gratifying to see how they tackle these questions. Especially how they partner with their spouses to balance each other’s plans and aspirations.
I’m delighted to have had this time with my family. Especially to have been far away from home with them, in such a beautiful place.
I felt a strong sense of God’s blessing on our time there. Surrounded by the Patagonia wilderness, you’re hard-pressed not to believe in God – whatever God might mean to you. And for me, being there was a spiritual experience.
I’ll admit I was disappointed that achy knees prevented me from attempting the more strenuous hikes. But even the easy terrain offered incredible vistas of nature and wildlife.
Travel to remote locations can be hard, and group travel can be even harder. But the tradeoffs are worth it. Especially if you get to travel with people you love.
I’ll always be grateful for these two weeks.
Images via: AHR, DSR