The truth about family holidays
Activities and crafts

The truth about family holidays

Father-of-two Steve Cummins’s frank thoughts about the realities of holidaying with your children.

The brilliant American comedian Louis CK beautifully describes what it’s like for him packing up the car with wife, kids and baggage before setting off on holiday – with all the packing and repacking, last minute trips back into the house for forgotten belongings and final trips to the loo.

Finally, all this done, he closes the door and walks around to get in the driver’s side, “That walk,” he says, “is my holiday”.

The truth about family holidays

Now it’s not all bad, but holidays with children are as far from the heady holidaying days of your youth as well … everything you used to do in your youth.

When my eldest was six-months-old and my youngest was all but a far-off dream, we went on a quick four-day break to Spain (remember the Celtic Tiger when we did stuff like that?).

What my wife and I didn’t realise until that first holiday was something that everyone who’s ever taken a small child to a hot country knows all too well. It’s that at seven o’clock every evening your holiday simply stops. Now, you’re stuck in a hotel room while in the corner in a dubious hotel cot, there’s a red faced, over-heated poop machine. The only joy you get – is from going out on to the balcony every now and again and throwing stuff down on the heads of young, childless couples.


Then, in the airport on the way home you make a vow; the same vow made by myriad parents before you. You swear that never again will you bring a small child abroad. Not until they’re older. Not until they can stay awake past nine and don’t need constant attention.

So you do what so many others have done before you. You have your holidays in Ireland.

The truth about family holidays

In an Irish hotel where they can’t legally kick you out of the bar and there’s probably a singsong or cabaret going on. You fill your kids up with Fanta and crisps and watch them spin around in circles until they eventually fall asleep under the table.

Then your holiday begins. It’s the perfect solution. Well, maybe not perfect. Ireland is a beautiful country and would be an amazing holiday destination if only it had a retractable roof.

I’ve seen so many defiant parents walking their children along a beach, heads bowed and in full anoraks as they’re bashed by gale force winds and that particular sideways rain you only seem to get in Ireland; issuing plaintive cries of, “We’re on holiday and we’re making the most of it.” Wolfing down ice cream, defying brain freeze in your haste to finish it, but not as with most countries because it’ll melt, but because the wind might blow it out to sea. And waking up one morning to find the beach has been claimed by jellyfish like some aquatic version of sun lounger hogs.

A rare day of perfection

The truth about family holidays

But then you get that one perfect day. The weather is idyllic, the beach half empty. The kids invent some game, which doesn’t involve you for once. You get to lie out, slowly bake and finally finish that book you’ve had for the last three summers.

Then afterwards, taking your tired, happy and wonderfully sun-kissed family for salty chips before heading back to the hotel or holiday home.

For once, the kids fall asleep in seconds and you and your beloved get time alone to share a glass of wine and a cuddle. That’s what holidays are about. They’re about spending time with the people you love most in the world and in that moment, even if you could, you wouldn’t change places with your young holidaying self for anything. Except lie ins; God, I miss those.

More you might like

Birthday party planning
Play ideas for 5 to 10 year olds
Beginners guide to cruises


Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….


Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.