Why We Still Take Our Eye-rolling Teen on Family Trips

Family Matters on 07.29.12
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Photo Credit: Amanda Freeman

This is my family on summer vacation. The smiling faces are my husband, Trey, stepson Chet, who is 10, and my daughter Maia, who just turned 6.  We were enjoying a relaxed afternoon wandering around the National Zoo in Washington, DC. But look closely: one of the faces is not smiling. My 13-year-old stepdaughter, Ava, just finished rolling her eyes. It was probably her 57th eye roll of the day. 

Ava is smart, wonderful, sweet, and for the most part, she's handling the transition to teenage-dom remarkably well. But over the past year Ava has started protesting trips to museums, monuments, parks, shows, aquariums, zoos, basically any family outing that does not include a stop at a shopping mall, movie theater or computer lab. Part of the problem is the age span in our family; it's hard to satisfy everyone. (But I'm 35, and I enjoyed the lions.)

For the most part, we continue to drag Ava on family outings. Maybe because Trey and I suffered the same fate when we were teens. Not only did my father insist on an annual family vacation to a ski lodge in New Hampshire (during the summer when it was more affordable), but most Sundays my three brothers and I piled into our rusty orange Suburban with my dad to just drive around. Sometimes we'd wind up at a random cemetery in a corner of Massachusetts where my brothers would tumble out of the car to pummel each other. If we were lucky, my dad would take us to get an ice cream. While we drove, dad would ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up. Then he'd pop in a Tony Robbins motivational speaking tape, and my brothers and I would roll our eyes. Two years ago my dad had a stroke that limited his ability to communicate, so now I appreciate these memories even more. In other words, I am no longer rolling my eyes. 

Since Trey and I started to blend our families, our brood has become large enough (though nothing compared to the Brown's or the Duggar's), to make airfare prohibitively expensive. So Trey recently suggested we drive across the country on vacation. This is not something I want to do. My mind immediately conjures the stale fart smell that would waft from the back seat, the constant pleas to be there already or to stop to use the bathroom, and the din of fighting among the kids. I am a realist, but I love that my husband has this romantic notion of us all piled into the car, talking through the night, discovering new places together.  

Shorter family trips, like our six hour drive from Connecticut to Washington, DC, can be magical and memorable in the same way (and less painful). Yes, the kids farted and fought, but we had blissful moments too: An accident that closed Route 95 forced us all out of the car, onto the shoulder of the highway to pick calla lilies for close to an hour. We even managed to satisfy Ava with a trip to a burrito joint after dragging her around the zoo.

For now, we plan to continue forcing Ava to join our family outings as long as we possibly can. When she gets her license, I know this will become even more difficult. But it feels important to do things together as a family, because she'll only be fully at home for another four years. 

How do you include young teens on family vacations or outings -- or do you let them stay home?

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