Holidays from school, whether at home or away, are often challenging with adolescents. Adolescents have that difficult conflict of wanting to be with their family whilst simultaneously wanting to be independent.
Holidays spent at home bring about particular challenges. Boundaries are pushed, and whilst trying to honour a need for later home times and relaxed meal times, parents’ tolerance can be pushed to the limit when teenagers are up late, lounge around leaving a trail of mess, then want to come home when it is past parents’ bedtimes! In many ways, this difference in routine is what adolescents are driven to push for. They want to have their individuality recognised. By getting up late and going to bed late, and by having different meal times, they can have a practice run at living independently. It can be hard to manage this, but negotiating is vital. Approached in a way where the adolescent feels acknowledged, negotiating can lead to solutions that suit everyone. For example, with meals in holiday times, cupboards can be filled with ‘student’ food, such as pasta, sauces, cheese, rice, salad, indeed anything that fits into the category of easy-cook good food. Agreements can be made that if eating separately, all clearing up is done. Parents might have to clear up after the clearing up, but you are giving the young person the experience of experimenting with independence within a safe home.
Holidays spent away bring different challenges. Your adolescent might feel old enough to be wandering about an unknown town late at night but you might feel very unsure about this in unknown territory. You might want to protect your adolescent, and in doing so, there is a danger that you will be scaring him or her off future holidays. Your adolescent is probably deep down a little anxious too. Much easier though to tell you off for being anxious instead of admitting it. Bite-sized chunks come to mind. Let him or her get to know the town during the day. Then just for an hour in an agreed place that you both know. Then for longer. You can go out too, nearby perhaps so your adolescent can check in with you.
It all seems to be about negotiation at this stage. What do you do if your adolescent just won’t negotiate? There are many times when you do need to stand firm as a parent, for you do have the greater experience. Often this works and your adolescent will begin to see the sense of talking with you, but sometimes it is more of a struggle and the holiday can be a less pleasurable experience than hoped for.
Most parents and their adolescents do reach a stage where it becomes just too difficult to holiday together. This is often a very sad part of being a parent – the moment when you realise that your child will probably never holiday with you again. Children do grow up, and they leave, but they do come back. They might well holiday with you again as adults, in a different relationship. If they have their own children, they will remember with almost bodily memory the wonderful holidays they experienced as children. They will want to give their own children similar experiences, or better ones if they have less happy holiday memories. Holidays are meant to be good times, and as long as potential stresses are acknowledged, they can be.
Dr Angela Evans
Child & Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist
Member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists