The Idle Parent: Down With Forced Family Fun!

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This is the seventh part in a series of discussions regarding The Idle Parent Manifesto, which can be found in Tom Hodgkinson’s book The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids . Need to get caught up? You can do so here.

We don’t waste money on family days out and holidays.

Eli got his first taste of Goldfish at 8 months old. And by taste, I mean he ate half a bag. And by Goldfish, I don’t mean the whole-wheat kind or the organic bunny knock-offs you can get at Whole Foods. I mean half a bag of no-good-for-you-dye-laden-rainbow-Goldfish. What kind of mother does this to an infant? The kind that thinks a family trip to Chicago with a 5-year-old and an 8-month-old is a splendid idea. The kind who doesn’t account for being stuck in a traffic jam on the Dan Ryan Expressway for 3 hours with children.


Room service, can you remove these children please? I’m done vacationing with them.

There are two kinds of family outings and vacations (or holidays, if you’re feeling British like the author): the idyllic ones you take in your head and the actual ones you live out … and sometimes have nightmares over. You imagine a nice holiday at the beach with your children happily playing at your feet in the sand while you sip adult beverages and read the latest People magazine. Instead you spend your beach time making sure the children aren’t swept out by the current and happy hour washing sand out of tiny crevices. You imagine a cultural awakening in the city for your children – museums by day and interesting dinners in quaint pubs. Instead you end up at the Lego store and McDonalds.

Am I ruining it for you? I hope not. As my kids get older, I’m finding them to be amazing travelers. We have a trip planned to Disney next month and I’m looking forward to it. But I also know to keep my expectations at a minimum. I’ve learned that small children don’t crave adventure and new experiences like we do. They crave free time and familiar routines. Trying to recreate the vacations you loved before children with the children you actually have is not only a recipe for disaster, it’s a huge waste of money.

Crocodile Snacks

At least one of us is having fun.

Can I suggest something? Next break, stay home instead. Spend an entire day in your pajamas. Make that spaceship out of Legos you always said you’d do when we have time. If you need to leave your city limits to feel like you’ve had a worthy vacation, visit a state park or a children’s museum in a neighboring town. Take a day trip. You’ll spend less and still make great memories. Memories that don’t include mommy losing it on an expressway in Chicago.

Even better? Try splitting up. Last summer Mike took the kids to Cleveland for the weekend and left me at home. It was glorious. The kids got to experience one-on-one time with dad and do things dad-style. Me? I got to bask in the peace and quiet. Splitting up means no more bickering about whose turn it is to deal with the dreaded vacation bedtime – there’s only one parent so guess who’s in charge?! Or split up and go in different directions. If two of you like museums and the rest of you like camping, why try to force everyone into enjoying the same thing? Rebel and do what you really and truly love, and make your own family memories in the process.


Dad’s idea of fun: cheap pizza in a parking lot. Everyone’s happy, including mom, who is eating

sushi at home in her pajamas.

Still don’t believe me? Maybe Lisa can help convince you to buck the Forced Family Fun Tradition …

We’ve taken two family vacations to Disney. My Disney tank is on full. The kids were playing Legos at the Lego store for the fourth straight hour at Downtown Disney. Roger and I spotted a man wearing a shirt with F³ on the front. We were beyond bored, so we had to ask. The man laughed and explained that he was at a family reunion. There were at least fifty of his closest family members all running around Disney. He made it clear that this was not his idea of a vacation. The F³ on his shirt stood for “Forced Family Fun.”

It’s become our motto: NO FORCED FAMILY FUN!

Roger understood this early in our marriage but, as usual, it took me a long time to figure it out. You see, we’re a family and we have a lot in common but we’re still very different. Let’s consider these differences:

  • We do not all fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up at the same time.
  • We do not like to eat the same foods at the exact same time.
  • We do not like to watch the same TV shows at the same time.
  • We do not like to do the same thing at the same time all day long for a week at a time.

Name one person you know who is more fun when he hasn’t slept well, eaten well, is dog-tired and is forced to do things he doesn’t want to do? I will vacation with him.

Family vacations force us to do all of these things – with the added bonus of knowing that you’ve just shelled out a boatload of money to do so. It’s usually really fun for one person, sheer hell for the rest and soon-to-be hell for the one person having fun when he realizes that no one else is having a good time.

People ask me all the time. “So, where are you going on your next family vacation?” When we find something that we all want to do, we’ll go. Until then, we split up. I go on Girl’s trips. Roger has taken Ben to Hershey Park. I took Thomas to Chicago on Spring Break. It seems strange, and even my extended family doesn’t quite get it,  but it works for us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t love each other. We spend a lot of time together. A lot. I think, sometimes, we get too focused on quality time and forget quantity time. If you spend a lot of time together, then it’s OK to split up for vacations.

My girls

Now this is our idea of a vacation!

So you won’t be seeing either of our families at Club Med any time soon, but what about your family? Do you rock the family vacation and have a few things to teach us?  Or do you wave the white flag of vacation surrender, too?




  1. We have a vacation tradition of several years running: vacation with other families. Take a sitter, or two, preferably teenagers. From 11-4 every day (when the sun is “too hot”) The sitters have summer camp. Tie-die T-shirts, face painting, puzzles, games, water balloons, movies, cookies, etc, etc. And the parents sit by the pool and do nothing. Or go out to lunch, or if your four-year-old can’t pick the lock on your bedroom door, other adult things! Has worked for 4 years running!!


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