The fight began somewhere in standstill-traffic on the M4. I can’t remember what my parents were arguing about on our family holiday to Bath, but I know that it required them to pull over on the hard shoulder. By the time we arrived at the little B&B, the stink of the fight was so bad, no one was talking. My sister and I roamed around in the garden while we waited for our parents to make up. It seemed to take forever; I swore that one day, when I had my own money, I would never holiday with these people ever again. I was 13.
Like a lot of people who weren’t loaded, family trips were meant to be escape from homework or chores but the reality is that they often ended up feeling remarkably similar to being at home: being told what to do and ferrying drinks around for my parents. The pact struck was: “I’m paying for this, so you don’t get a say.” And I get it – especially now that I earn my own money. But the element of control is hard to shake off when you become an adult – being stuck with an experience that you get no say in, where your parents call the shots.
I admit all of that stuff made me nervous about going on holiday with my parents as an adult. All that stuff as a kid – dodgy hotels, being bollocked for breathing too loud – has stayed with me and connects to a deep, troubled place where I’m petrified of losing control. But it seemed a shame to let the ghosts of my family holidays dictate how I chose to connect with my parents in the later years of their life.
At first it wasn’t even a consideration. When I got married, any leave was spent with my husband Rob on holidays of our own. But then, when he died two years ago, things completely changed. I started to review a lot of things and one of those was how much quality time I was spending with my parents. Weekend visits often felt fraught and intense – I’d revert to teenager-mode, they’d try and press so much love and concern on me that it felt stifling. And honestly? Rob’s death made me scared of their deaths. It prompted me to do the mathematics – at some point, my parents and I were no longer going to exist in the world simultaneously. I didn’t want to regret not spending proper time with them. I realised there was a lot I didn’t know about them. When did they meet? Why did my mum start her own business? And not just the family history stuff – but understanding who they are as people. You just can’t get to that kind of detail when you’re visiting for two days, eager to fly out of the door. So we went on a big holiday together.
Things go feral in my family after wine number four. We’re the best of friends before that, but too much alcohol and we start dredging up family feuds
It was a risk – on both our sides. My parents are retirees whose relationship is this wonderful little dance – they know each other inside out, are super chatty and seem to adopt random strays they meet on cruise ships. I like to sit by the pool with my sunglasses and headphones on and panic if someone says hello at the buffet table. Plus I was worried I’d be the sad-sack singleton holidaying with her parents because she had nowhere else to go. Then I realised that was my own personal baggage. I have plenty of friends to holiday with, and relegating my parents to a “fine I’ll go because I’m desperate” was kind of an insult to them. Plus, as I discovered, they are incredible fun and I know I am banking the kind of experiences that won’t make me examine my regret when I do lose them.
I can understand being reticent in committing to a holiday with your parents especially if your family is anything like my mine – we can argue across an incredible breadth of things from abandoned guitar lessons to wasted food. But like any reinvigorated relationship, it’s all about sticking to some basic rules.
Pay Your Half
Even if they try to insist, do not let your parents pay for your whole holiday. I realised there was a shift in dynamic when I started to pay at least 50 per cent of my own travel because it gave me the most powerful thing: the right to say no. You are paying for your freedom, my friends. The sweet freedom to say: “No, I don’t want to go to that crappy cultural village programme.”
Nip Bickering In The Bud
The worst thing is listening to someone else’s bickering. When my parents started doing it, I said to them really politely: “I’m sorry, but this isn’t enjoyable, and I’d rather not go on holiday if it’s like this. Can you both please sort it out?” What I did there was dangle the threat of not spending further time with them, and because my parents aren’t Satan and inexplicably trust me, they kept it in check.
Drink Booze But Not Too Much Booze
Things mainly go feral in my family after wine number four. We’re the best of friends before that, but too much alcohol and we start dredging up family feuds, dishing out home truths and in one instance, I vomited on my sister’s bed. (It was a mistake – I thought it was mine but she thought it was a dirty protest.)
Lean In To The Embarrassment
Families live and breathe to embarrass the shit out of each other, but instead of getting hot-headed or worse, making your parents feel like old-timers, just laugh it off. On a trip I took last weekend to the Cotswolds with my parents, my mother was recounting a story of looking after my three-year-old niece. “She asked for some loo paper,” my mother said, “and said she needed some for her vagina.” Unfortunately everyone in the pub chose that exact moment to be quiet and so the word VAGINA echoed down the artfully exposed wooden beams. We all three looked at each other and laughed so hard we had tears running down our faces.
Sali Hughes is away