There comes a time in a kid’s life when traveling with parents is the equivalent of having a tooth pulled at the dentist. The teen years follow after that (good luck, parents), then university.
But if you’re lucky, you’ll have the chance to travel with them when they’ve turned the corner into adulthood. If you’re luckier still, you’ll get to do it when you’re a parent yourself.
I’m that lucky.
Recently, I convinced my mother and my first-born son, Ethan, to hop a plane with me to Mexico’s Riviera Maya. For them it was a quick getaway to a sunny destination after a winter we all wanted to forget. But I had ulterior motives.
More than anyone else, these two people (my own mother and the child who made me one for the first time) have shaped who I am. And while I’ve spent time with each of them on their own, this was a prime opportunity to celebrate the complex and precious relationship the three of us share.
At the end of our time together we all called the trip a resounding success. But while we were there I could see plenty of points where missteps on our part could have derailed our good intentions.
What made it work?
1. We stayed at a property that allowed us to spend time apart.
Sure, we love each other, but spending 24 hours a day together would’ve been testing fate. Instead we researched the activities that were being offered at the Grand Velas Resort during our stay and checked off the things that interested us most.
For my son, it was the teen club and the chance to climb inside a giant Zorb ball at the pool. For Mom, it was walks on the beach, time at the spa, and hitting the gym each morning. I just wanted “alone time” with each of them: Ethan and I went bike riding while my mom enjoyed the grounds from her lounge chair, and Mom and I stole a few hours together by the pool sharing stories we never have time for at home.
Being able to be apart while we were together was priceless.
2. We discussed the point of the trip before we got there.
I developed ground rules and made sure we were all clear on them before takeoff.
For him: I made it clear that spending time together as a trio was our top priority on the trip. So, when we had opportunities to do that, teen club and iPod play got trumped.
For her: I emphasized how much she deserved some time alone. My mom is even more “mama bear” than me, but I certainly didn’t invite her along to babysit. I wanted her to have a great time in her own right.
When we did end up spending time alone, we made sure to catch up on whatever we’d missed over dinner. In the end, we all bought into the goals and spent five incredible–and guilt-free–days together.
3. We were willing to try new things.
My mom, who has never been a very strong swimmer, bit the adventure bullet by agreeing to get in the ocean–and touch a giant stingray in the wild right alongside Ethan and me.
It was a great, if somewhat frightening, experience for her, but it was also an opportunity for Ethan to see his grandmother in a new light. His admiration for her bravery became a topic of conversation going forward and was one of the first things he shared with his brother when we got back home.
4. We gained an appreciation for how activities affected each other.
My mom is in her late 60s, I’m in my 40s, and my son is approaching his teens. Though our interests are as varied as our ages, we were each willing to make small sacrifices for the benefit of the group.
Case in point? We visited Xel-Ha, an enormous aquarium park with opportunities to snorkel, raft, and bike. Where Ethan saw endless adventure, his grandmother saw exhaustion. While she loves him so much that she would have walked it anyway and paid the price later, he realized it would be tough on her bum knee and suggested finding a spot to set up camp instead. Similarly, when she saw him itching to get into the pool back at the resort while I was doing some work, she packed up their stuff and headed down without me.
Mutual consideration went a long way.
I took my mother and my son on this trip because I wanted them to experience (and remember), uninterrupted, the special relationship the two of them share. What I failed to recognize is that while their relationship may be because of me, it doesn’t require me. Their bond is impenetrable. It will shift and sway as they grow older, but it will not break. They are each other’s heart holders and I should, and do, feel lucky to tag along from time to time to witness the ride.
Heather Greenwood Davis, husband Ish, and sons Ethan and Cameron were recognized as Travelers of the Year by Traveler magazine in 2012. Watch highlights of their adventures on globetrottingmama.com. Follow Heather on Twitter @GreenwoodDavis.