PARENTS

Child Free Holidays: Selfish Or Sensible?

29/07/2014 16:32 | Updated 22 May 2015

Child free holidays: Selfish or sensible?Rex Features

I suffer from amnesia.

It's a particular type of amnesia that - I'd hazard a guess - is peculiar to parents. I call it 'selective holiday-memory syndrome'.

It means that, every year, as I part with my partner's and my own hard-earned cash to pay for the family holiday with our two boys now aged 11 and seven, I feel truly excited.

Sunny memories flood my mind - of the boys racing enthusiastically into the sea clutching their bodyboards, their yells and shrieks of pure delight as they chase each other around a hotel pool or their ecstatic expressions as they sample yet another flavour of delectable Italian ice-cream.

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What I choose to forget (and this is where the 'selective holiday-memory syndrome comes into its own) are their miserable, weary faces as they're dragged around the historical sites their dad and I insist on visiting; my irritation at their nagging for another ice-cream as they pick half-heartedly at a plate of (delicious-if-they-gave-it-a-chance) unfamiliar foreign food and their pre-occupation with the damned hotel pool and when can they leave this boring old town and head back to it?

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I fail to remember, too, my desperate attempts to curb their over-exuberance in that damned pool as they splash passers-by, and their hysterical over-loud guffawing when it's lights-out and I eventually have to wade in to the bedroom and spoil their fun for fear of them waking up every other knackered holiday maker within five miles.

Banished from memory also are my regular poolside yearnings for just half an hour to myself to read a book in peace. Or for time to romantically clink glasses with my partner and finish off a decent conversation without being dragged back into the pool for a game of handstands. "Oh please, mum, it's more fun when you come in, too..."

But that's what family holiday are all about aren't they? The great and the not-so-great? The ups and the downs? And anyway, I always tell myself as I pack the passports: this year will be different. This year will be perfect.

Besides, what's the point of not being the eternal optimist when the alternative – to give up on family holidays altogether - would be unthinkable?

And I can't even bring myself to think about the other even more unthinkable option. To go away on a week's holiday WITHOUT the children. True, we've done the odd weekend away without the boys. But a week? Or two? In the sun? Can you imagine the guilt?

A straw poll amongst friends agreed that a proper hol (anything over a couple of days) without kids would be just too indulgent. "Only rich people do it..." said one. "I suppose if you can afford a few holidays away a year then one of them could be without the children." Another likened it to sending children away to boarding school. "There's the view that it's good for children and parents to be away from each other – but I think it's purely selfish on the parents' part."

But it seems we may simply be unenlightened. Because holidays without the kids are going mainstream....

Today, family holiday company Thomson Holidays are marking a milestone with the official launch of 'Thomson Couples', a selection of adult-only holidays designed to appeal to 35-55 year olds, in 19 luxury child-free hotels around the world – to short, mid and long-haul destinations. It means they're the first mainstream travel company to offer 100 said they would like to spend any extra adults-only time on holiday. What they would most look forward to in that holiday would be peace and quiet, as well as good food, taking relaxing walks along the beach, and spending time simply talking to each other – essentially the simple pleasures we all took for granted before having a family.

On the question of how socially acceptable it is to have a holiday without the children, 78) believe it would strengthen their marital relationship. And a third (34) of those surveyed said their own children can impact their enjoyment either 'some of the time' or 'significantly'.

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But other people's children were the most annoying, with 79 said a holiday could be 'ruined' or 'significantly impacted' by other people's children while the research also revealed that more than a third (35%) agree with the statement 'hell is other people's children on holiday.'

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Gripes were mainly about children being disruptive in a restaurant; the 'general noise' and the sound of parents' raised voices.

Whilst Thomson are confident that their couples-only holidays will be a hit (their first child-free holidays are offered in this summer's brochure) they admit they had to be careful about how they branded the new concept to parents.

Romance, for example, was a dirty word.

'The name 'Thomson Couples' has had to be treated carefully,' comments Luke Gaskins, Head of Product development for Thomson. 'We know that it includes people who have been together 30 years. They are likely to enjoy the peace and quiet, but don't necessarily want to sit gazing into each other's eyes every evening. We don't want to alienate people into thinking it's only for young or honeymooning couples.'

Focus Group research bore this out – parents said they didn't want to be surrounded by honeymooners as it would make them feel old and they didn't necessarily want to be reminded of what was likely to be the imperfect nature of their own relationship!

To support today's official launch, Thomson commissioned a White Paper entitled 'Child-free holiday – sensible or selfish?' and sent a social commentator away to a child-packed and childfree resort to hear on-the-ground views from holidaymakers.

As you'd expect, opinions spanned the board.

"The only opportunity we have to spend time together as a family is on holiday. This is quality time for us. They're only young once and you've got to make the most of it," said Julian, dad of two and MD of a vehicle repair business from Buckinghamshire.

Meanwhile dad of one Keith, a local authority officer from Wigan had a different take. "It's nice – necessary, actually – to get a break. You need time to catch up with yourselves and spend a little bit of time not worrying about childcare, or about work. Just to find yourselves again with nothing to think about other than what do you want to do today," he said.

The White Paper research concludes that a minority of parents have no desire to spend any time away from their children and view the idea of doing so as outrageous. But that for the remainder, there's a real desire for me-time, to pause every once in a while and take in surroundings unhindered by the needs and demands of children.

But how many of us will act on that desire, I wonder?

Even Thomson recognizes that many of us mums and dads simply wouldn't feel able to enjoy a child-free holiday guilt-free. (Though they are confident this view will change with time and that child-free, guilt-free holidays will become the new norm at some point in the not too distant future).

Keen to dispel worries that taking a couples-only holiday risks alienating or even traumatising children, Thomson's White Paper also includes advice from couples therapist Judy Karr who says it can be good for children to see that their parents have a special relationship, even one from which they are occasionally excluded.

"Parents can actually be a good role model for their children by taking holidays together," she says. "They are learning that parents loving each other and needing their own time as well as loving their children and enjoying time together, are not mutually exclusive."

'Family holidays are great and the Thomson Couples offering should be seen as an addition to family holidays, a chance for a couple to get to know one other again and escape all the pressures and demands of life, even if it's just for a week.'

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But how many of us can really afford to take two separate holidays a year? And how many of really, really (I mean really) want to be apart from our kids for a week in the sun, sand or city?

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Good for you if you totally enjoy your time away from your children, and feel energised (and a better parent) as a result. In a sneaking way I admire that attitude.

But I for one won't be dashing off a deux into the sunset for a fortnight without my boys just yet. A night away? Absolutely! A weekend? At a push. But my boys will only be young once. In just five years time my eldest will probably be spurning the very thought of being seen with us, let alone spending a whole week uninterrupted in our presence.

My partner and I have years ahead of us (hopefully!) when the boys have left home for us to enjoy weeks away without them.

So for now I'll (happily) put up with being dragged into the pool away from my book every five minutes in-between continuing to attempt to foist some foreign culture onto my kids. I'll continue to spend hours on a beach simultaneously slipping into that dream now and again about sipping a cocktail next to a still, silent pool.

Believe it or not, I enjoy my children's company. (Most of the time).

So, my selective holiday-memory syndrome will hang around for a few years yet, and I will choose only to remember the amazing, happy holiday moments where I've found myself filling up with emotion at how much the boys are enjoying themselves, or those occasions when I've shared their mad-cap games, countless uncontrollable giggles and seen sights together that have taken our breath away.

So I'm a soft mother. So I suffer from guilt. So sue me...

And here's a mum who believes in holidaying without children.

What do you think?

Do you ever manage to sneak off for a break without children or would you feel too guilty or anxious about them?

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