The Politics of Bringing a Friend Along to Family Vacations

2013-08-16 07.51.05-2We had heard about people bringing along their kids’ friends on their family vacations, but I never thought we would actually be doing it ourselves one day.

Then this summer, I took my son Joshua’s best friend Sam with us to Hawaii.

Lest you think that that is over-the-top decadent and that I should have stuck to low-cost options such as going camping at the nearby campground, let me explain.

I had some work to do in Hawaii mid-August, just before Josh started his sophomore year in high school but after Meg had already started her year-round middle school.  I could’ve either left both kids at home with David or taken Josh with me.

I let that thought sink in for a moment — just me and Josh in paradise.

As much as I have a pretty good relationship with my teenage son, I just didn’t think he would be overjoyed with the prospect of hanging out with Mother for five days in Hawaii.  In fact, I knew he would be spending an inordinate amount of time indoors playing online games with Sam in Texas, which he could very well do back home in Southern California…sans the airfare.

So, I got a great idea: Why not bring Sam along with us to Hawaii?

We told Sam’s parents that if they could fly him out from Texas to California, then we would take care of the rest.

“The rest” meant using my airline miles for his flight from LAX to Honolulu.  It also meant him staying with us in our two-bedroom timeshare unit which we were going to rent anyhow and is plenty big for the three of us.  Sam’s overjoyed parents gave us some cash for his meals and spending money, but we happily paid for some of the fun activities such as the fabulous luau in Waikiki and snorkeling in Hanauma Bay.

We had an unforgettable time!

I didn’t feel badly about leaving the boys alone at the resort while I took care of business, because they are pretty independent at 15.  They walked to the nearby IHOP for their breakfasts, and they hung out at the pool or the beach.  I gave them permission and access to room-charge foods and activities, although they showed much restraint in exercising this privilege.  I was quite impressed.  Sam must be a good influence on Josh.

When our kids were very young, we brought along baby sitters or hired them at the destination on our vacations.  We paid all of their expenses and then some for watching our kids.  I figured Sam was Josh’s “sitter” on this vacation — we probably should have paid him for taking care of our son!

Our friends Marty and Doris let their son Kyle join a family on camping trips each year, and our other friends Mary and Kenny always bring along their godchild (or godgrandchild) Tayler to summer camp without her parents.  People make it work for them in many different ways, but I have some suggestions to make such vacations go as smoothly as possible:

1.  Discuss the expenses involved with the other parents before embarking on such a trip.  Some parents want to make sure they pay for all of the expenses, while others are only able to chip in some spending money.  Be prepared to pay for 100% unless otherwise mutually decided upon.

2.  Make sure your child is mature enough and responsible enough to accept this invitation.  Spending five days on vacation with someone is different from an afternoon play date.  The more you can train your child for independence ahead of time, the more fun the excursion is going to be for all.  Sam was responsible, thoughtful, fun, and just assertive enough for all of us to enjoy our vacation together. We would take him again in a heartbeat.

3. Keep communicating with their parents throughout the trip.  With facebook, Instagram, email, and texts, it was easy for us to keep updating  Sam’s parents from Hawai with fun photos.  I’m sure that his parents were pleased to see their son having fun in paradise!

Have you ever taken a friend along on vacation?  How did it work out for you? Share with us here!

Bike Ride and Why I’m Not a Tiger Mom

Me and my buddy Josh

Today, I proved once again that I am not a Tiger Mom and why.

“I’m going on a bike ride with my friends,” declared our 14-year old son Joshua. He hasn’t ridden his bike in well over a year.

“Where are you riding to?”

“The beach.  We’re going to have lunch there and ride back.”

Irvine is somewhat near the coast, but it’s not exactly a beach town.  I figured it’s at least eight miles away.

“You sure you can get there?  Oh and by the way, you have Japanese school at 1:30.”

“Can’t I miss it, mom?  Pleeeease?”

Because we had already missed two Saturday Japanese classes due to our trip to Japan, I wasn’t going to allow him to miss another class.  We came up with a compromise: he could ride down to the beach for his lunch, but I would pick him up and the bike at one o’clock and take him to class.  Josh begrudgingly agreed.

Even going one direction, I had a feeling that this was going to be quite a challenge for him.  He rarely rides his bike, which we bought for him 3 years ago.  He has grown at least 6 inches since then.  He and I are currently the same height, so I suggested he ride my bike instead of his so he could stretch out his legs all the way, but he resisted.

A jet-lagged teenager going on a 2-hour ride on a bicycle too small for him.  Now, this is going to be interesting.  I could have forbidden him from doing this, but I figured it’s not worth the fight.  What’s the worst that could happen?  He’ll be tired, sore, and hungry, but he’ll probably live through it.  I decided that he can learn his own lesson and asked David to pump the tires and raise the seat as much as he could.

Shortly before this Tour de Irvine began, I received a phone call from the mother of one of his friends who was also riding.  I’ll cal this friend “Lisa” and her Asian immigrant mom “Susan.”

“Hello, Junko?  This is Susan.  I hear our kids are riding their bikes to the beach.  I’m afraid Lisa is going to have a hard time, because she never rides her bike.”

That makes two of us.

“I’m trying to tell her not to go, but she refuses to listen.  Can you try to talk to Josh about not going so she won’t go either?”

I told her I’d try and hung up.

“Josh, do you really want to go?  You do realize it’s a long ride, right?”  Yes, and yes.

“Okay, suit yourself.  Have fun.”

Thanks to cell phones, I was able to track down the cyclists somewhere on the bike trail between Irvine and Newport Beach at 1pm.  Actually, they were still in Irvine.  They had a late start because Lisa’s bike broke down and she had to go home to get another one.  Sure enough, they were already tired and hungry, and they wolfed down the McDonald’s snacks I’d purchased just in case.  When they learned from me that they were only about halfway to the beach, Josh’s friends decided to turn around and head home.

As Josh and I drove off to Japanese school, he told me, “Lisa and her mom had a 45-minute argument about not going on this bike ride.”

45 minutes?  That’s almost as long as the duration of their actual bike ride!  Lisa and her mom are now angry at each other, and she was not looking forward to coming home to “I told you so.”

A real Tiger Mom would probably have forbidden this bike ride without a discussion.  As a Panda Mom, I figured that my relationship with my son is more important than winning an argument.  Sure, if it was something really life-threatening, I would have refused.  But in this case, it was much better for Josh to learn his own lesson and for me to remain a Panda.

And Josh and I are still close.

What would you have done in this case?  Did I do the right thing?  Please share in the comments below.