Sometimes, as a parent, it’s easy to think you’ve got everything under control. “Well, this isn’t as tricky as people make out,” you smugly say to yourself, as your kids play happily together and you can, for once, actually see your living room carpet underneath the mass of naked (and therefore slightly demonic) dolls and little pieces of feet-destroying Lego. Those rare moments of domestic bliss are what you cling to for the majority of the time – because unfortunately, any parent who tries to convince themselves that their life is anything other than hideously chaotic is lying through their teeth.
Since becoming a dad, one of my observations has been how quickly the definition of what’s normal changes. Before having kids, I wouldn’t have taken kindly to someone walking into the bathroom while I was sitting on the toilet. Now, it’s become entirely commonplace for a toddler to be attempting to make a den with the loo roll while I’m trying to use it for entirely different purposes. Similarly, there was once a time, not all that long ago, when I’d think it more than a little strange to wake up with more than one person lying next to me in my bed. Nowadays, I’m lucky if there’s any space for me at all by the time it gets to 4am. So it was with a slight sense of trepidation that we booked a holiday away with friends earlier this month. Has our definition of normality changed so dramatically that our family habits are now not fit for consumption outside our own household?
Thankfully, our Easter trip was a resounding success – even though the idea of two families going away together is one of those things that’s meant to permanently ruin a friendship. When I was little, it’s not something we ever did, and there are plenty of nightmare stories which suggest my mum and dad were wise to avoid trying to play happy families with other people. I remember them tentatively trying it once with a family who lived over the road, just for an evening. We played the board game Scattergories; they expressed amazement that we might win a round against them, given that they went to private school and we didn’t. They weren’t invited back. Another horror story I once heard involved two families with young kids going on a summer holiday together. The parents clearly had different ideas about how to spend their evenings: one pair wanted to relax and leave the washing up until the morning; the other basically wanted to deep-clean the apartment each night and lay the table for breakfast the following day, with no speck of dust left visible to the naked eye. Not only did they not return for a holiday en masse the following year, it seriously threatened the health of their friendship in the long-term (and for the avoidance of doubt, can we please agree right now that the family who couldn’t be arsed to do the washing up were 100% in the right?).
So, what are the must-haves for any holiday with another family? Firstly, it’s no use booking a break purely on the basis that the adults get on marvellously well. If the kids can’t stand each other, you’ll all be miserable. Secondly, you have to be genuinely willing to let your friends tell your kids off if they’re being irritating. Holidays are too short to worry about whether it’s your own child you’re disciplining, or if the little monster in question actually belongs to someone else. Next, it’s crucial to embrace the idea that you don’t have to DO EVERYTHING TOGETHER ALL THE TIME AND KEEP SMILING BECAUSE ISN’T IT JUST SO LOVELY AND FUN TO BE ON HOLIDAY TOGETHER! Sometimes, it’s not. We all need our own space. Spending every single waking moment with my own family fills me with enough trepidation sometimes, without having to factor in someone else’s wife and children – and I’m sure the feeling’s mutual. And finally, if you have high expectations about the amount of quality time you’ll all get as adults in the evenings, think again. Chances are, there’ll always be at least one child who’s either being a nightmare or having a nightmare, and you’re more likely to find yourself pouring the Calpol than pouring the wine.
Anyway, our holiday was great fun, full of laughs and happy children and an awful lot of swimming. We all fed our kids far too much chocolate, rejoiced in being up ridiculously early most mornings, and went to bed very tired but very content. Our next challenge will be half-term with the grandparents in May. Wish us luck…