“This is the most boring day of my life,” I thought. As I was only nine years old, that may have been true. That day, my family was traveling along the Finger Lakes wine trail, driving over rolling green hills and past shining lakes. My parents were sipping wine, nodding along with the winemakers’ explanations, and having a grand old time. Meanwhile, I spent most of my time rolling my eyes and whining. The best thing I did all day was pet one measly dog.
Oddly, that day is my clearest memory of that entire trip. On a vacation that included rafting in a river gorge and 1990s-era laser light show, that’s the main thing I remember.
But I don’t resent my parents for it. In fact, I think they did exactly the right thing dragging me somewhere I didn’t want to go. It’s good to occasionally bring your children places that aren’t designed for them. These days, I do it with my own kids, who are two- and five-years-old. We’ve been to art museums, cultural festivals, and plenty of restaurants without kids’ menus. We’ve even visited the dreaded winery.
Visiting places that adults want to go to takes pressure off of the kids to have all fun, all the time. Many parents plan their vacations around what they think their kids would enjoy the most, accompanied by shining visions of them jumping for joy. The reality is rather different. Sure, the vacation is awesome – some of the time. The rest of the time, it’s a jumble of whining, confusion, and arguments, like everything in parenting. No matter how amazing your plans are, from the beach to Disney World, something will go wrong and someone will be unhappy. If you go in assuming not everyone will love everything, it’s a lot easier to deal with these setbacks. If you pick something the parents enjoy, at least somebody’s going to have a good time.
Going places that the parents want to go more than the kids also sets the expectation that the vacation is for everyone – not just the kids. It’s good to remind them other people matter. After all, you don’t want to raise entitled brats. Watching you have a good time is a lot more effective than nagging them for being ungrateful. In comparison, those kids’ activities magically seem a lot more fun!
That’s not to say activities that are more on the adult side can’t be fun for kids too. It’s possible to make even “boring” activities like art museums engaging for young children. At the art museum, I sought out a painting of trains, my son’s favorite topic. On hikes, we stop and look for bugs. When we went to the winery, we brought a picnic and ran through the rows of vines. Seeing your favorite things through a child’s eyes can expand your perspective too.
Looking at boring activities through a fun lens can also teach kids how to enjoy activities they’re not inherently interested in. As kids get older, they’ll spend time with people who don’t always want to do the same things they do. While they can just grin and bear it, it’s a hell of a lot more fun to find some joy in it. If they’re already used to it on family vacations, it’s going to be a much easier transition. Parenting advice columnist for the Washington Post Meghan Leahy says that even though visiting churches with her parents as a kid was deadly boring (Church Holidays), both her and her brother appreciate lovely old churches now. You never know what will stick.
Honestly, taking your kids “boring” placing on vacation makes it a heck of a lot more fun for everyone in the long run. Even if a cute dog is their favorite thing all day.
Shannon Brescher Shea is a mom of two wild children who lives outside of Washington D.C., where there are more museums than she can ever visit. She helps families do good for themselves, their communities, and the Earth on her blog We’ll Eat You Up, We Love You So (http://welleatyouupweloveyouso.com), as well as on Facebook (http://facebook.com/welleatyouupweloveyouso/), Twitter (http://twitter.com/storiteller), and Instagram (http://instagram.com/welleatyouupweloveyouso/).