Travel with teens is troublesome. This trip was a rerun for us and as with most shows in syndication, it lacked a sparkle that our original travel adventures had. This is not to say that we didn’t have some great days, but they were a little hard to see. On this year’s trip to Japan, Singapore and Indonesia we re-visited territory we’ve all seen before, and had mini breaks at some favorite places like Kyoto, and Ubud. But perhaps because the kids are now really teens, there have been some changes in how we travel together.
Attitude-When they’re unhappy, we’re ALL unhappy
It is no secret that teens have the power to influence family dynamics. Sulks and petty irritations have a way of escalating quickly and can turn a potentially fun day into a cranky one fast. And why does it seem like the two teens are never happy at the same time? Its almost as if they tag team their irritablilty. I’ve learned to smooth prickly feelings with a quiet check in, and hold firm when behavior is too rude. On the road, this looks a little different than at home. Sometimes kids are not welcome to join me on an outing or have to sit apart from us on the subway. We definitely all need a little more space between us and a lot more patience. But on those golden days when all four of us are in synch, the fun we have together makes me forget how unpleasant the bad days are.
Independence – When you realize they’d rather hang out with someone else
While I realize that none of this is new at all to seasoned parents of teens- -this is business as usual–its different teen/parent dynamic with us because we are on the road with our kids. We are together ALL THE TIME. And for many teens, the thought of their parents and little brother/big sister as their primary companion is sub-optimal to put it mildy.
This was the first trip with an additional traveler, Facebook. Emma’s friends (and her school life) were plugged in everyway with us on the trip. And Facebook is time consuming. I totally understand that FB friends are now part of our family circle and to banish them will only bring on more resistance—not the battle I choose to fight. So we include FB time in our day and simply request that iPhones not attend family time like dinners or outings that are special for the four of us.
So what do you do when you are not the best thing anymore?
We’ve been working on finding new things we like to do together. Emma and I like to window-shop when we are in the city. Josh likes to do photography with her. Max is still willing to come along on most adventures but he’s becoming less interested in “pointless” outings.
Max : “Where are we going and what are we doing?” Me “I don’t know just out. It will be fun to get out.” Max: (eye roll)
These trips where we wander without a clear pre-organized objective, I love best, Max hates them most.
So the workable solution I came up this year was more choice. I let the kids decide when they wanted to come along with me and when they preferred to do their own thing. It was pretty good, but I missed them on days when I was out on my own.
Struggle for Power–Who’s really in charge here anyway?
In past trips, it’s been really clear that I was the navigator, activities director and tour guide. Josh entered and exited our days as his work schedule permitted and the kids were the lucky ones– beneficiaries of our adventures with obligations. That’s pretty much where we started when they were ages two and four but now 10 years later, things have changed. Along the way the kids have been leading more of our experiences. Emma especially loves to study maps and get us from point A to point B. Max is an outdoor adventurer and seeks the wild places wherever we go.
This trip was different, because when I would suggest a visit to temples or a walk in the leafy park or shopping, there were moans and groans. Emma always had too much work to do for frivolous wandering and Max it seems has finally had enough of my endless quest for more washi tape.
I opted for more concentrated time with each of them individually. A day out at Pokemon Center and Electric Town with Max and a couple of shorter afternoons of Ginza shopping with Emma. In addition I did plan two dedicated family days, our trip to the Moss Garden in Kyoto and a bike ride day down Mt Agung in Ubud. But the other time, the days and hours that comprised our 5 weeks aboard was more or less in their sphere of control. Big changes for all of us.
The only thing I know, is that I don’t know
It’s difficult to navigate being a parent these days. My kids swing from wanting to hold hands one moment to sourly mocking the style of my jeans the next. I understand that I am on an uncharted sea. My only consolation is that they are as well. We are ships far from shore, sending messages via semaphore hoping they will be received. We are all unsure about the land ahead.