A false start to shared parental leave – let’s talk about holidays – heaven or hell?!

As the title suggests, week 1 of my shared parental leave has been a bit of a false start. It coincided with half term and a trip to Centre Parcs in the Lakes at Whinfell, so more like a normal holiday than me being left to fend for myself with 3 kids. We went with some good friends of ours and their two girls who are very close in age to our two. We went with them at the same time last year and they all loved it. Toby Tornado was making his Centre Parcs debut.

We had a brilliant week – loads of time outdoors, in the pool every day, bike riding, scooting, picnics, den building, interactive squash court (this was cool and will be even more fun when the kids are bigger) adventure playgrounds, ten pin bowling, arcades and even a few cheeky drinks thrown in for the parents. Tantrums and meltdowns were at a minimum too (mostly saved for the first night back home!): the benefit of the girls being a little older at 6 and a half and 4.

The boy Toby took it all in his stride and was no trouble. This is what he’s normally like and we feel very lucky with how good he generally is (though he still needs to sleep through the night better!). I’m not sure if that’s because he’s our third and he’s had to fend for himself a bit more and because we’re more relaxed as parents – maybe something for me to consider in another blog post some day… anyway, he’s pretty chilled out most of the time:

Given it’s a little early to give my views on my actual experiences of being a Dad on shared parental leave, I started thinking about holiday experiences we’ve had since having kids. My holidays as a child growing up are some of my best childhood memories . We were lucky enough to have a holiday home in Nefyn in North Wales whilst growing up which we went to most school holidays. Come rain or shine we had a great time as a family, got loads of exercise on long beach walks with our two Golden Retrievers and just generally had loads of fun. As we got older we also had some fantastic trips abroad – Disney World in Florida and a number of holidays to various Greek islands. I want to make sure my kids have similar fond memories and that our holidays together are special. With regards to the ones we have had to date – there’s a mix in there of good and not so good, but thankfully we tend to get it right most times now. So here’s a few observations and pointers I’ve picked up along the way in the last 6-7 years or so since I became a Daddy.

The not so good …

Picture the scene – a couple are on holiday with their 18 month old daughter. They are all sharing a hotel bedroom. The travel cot is set up outside the bathroom door. It is around 10:30pm and inside the bathroom are Daddy, lying in an empty bath trying to read a book and Mummy sitting on the toilet reading a magazine. Every time the door is opened to check on the little one the couple are greeted with the same sight: hands holding on to the top of the travel cot and eyes peering over, the same demonic look as Jack Nicholson’s face when he smashes through the door with an axe in Stephen King’s The Shining.

This was our first holiday abroad as a family. Looking back we’d probably been too nervous to fly with Tessa before, but wanted to go before she was 2 so we could take advantage of not having to pay for her flights. So on this trip we went to Tenerife. On our own. We’d had a few UK based trips before – Scarborough when she was about 3 months, Wales with family, but never abroad. Our timing was not good in hindsight – she was now walking – wobbly walking (like she was about a bottle of wine or two in on an empty stomach), having only started at 14 months. But we went with high hopes.

The problem on this trip was a little unfortunate. We’d noticed a rash on Tessa’s body on the flight. After taking her for a doctor’s check (thanks be to holiday insurance) to be on the safe side she was prescribed 4 different medicines including a bright red one, which in short, sent her absolutely bloody loopy! Couple this with her wanting to explore the perimeter of any place she was, meant countless laps of the pool area holding her hand whilst the other one of us tried to relax, late nights (as Tess wouldn’t go to sleep on the medication) trapped in our hotel room or on the balcony and tag teaming to eat our dinner at restaurants on our own, whilst the other walked her round in the pram to try and get her off to sleep! Not an ideal start to holidaying abroad.

A typical example of the sort of scene that greeted us at bedtime with Tess high on hyper-activity with her medication!
Please just go to sleep. I will pay you anything you want!
When she finally fell asleep – looks like she’s been on a massive bender and just passed out – that’s what the medication did to her! I think I’d fallen asleep first here…
Note the demonic look in her eyes – medicine spoon in hand… I think she knew the night-time carnage that was to follow – for the entire week!
The smiles of slightly delirious, over-tired parents, toasting the success of getting the drug-fuelled toddler to sleep (though still confined like prisoners to their balcony, with only wine and Yahtzee to get them through).

I think if we had our time again we’d have gone abroad with Tessa when she was much younger, maybe 6 to 9 months (pre-moving!). We would also have trusted our instincts on the rash as she seemed fine in herself . It turns out it was a post viral rash and she didn’t really need any medication at all!
Whist this was a tough trip, it was still nice to be away together and made us think a bit more about future trips away ….

The Good

When we went abroad again we went with back up – something any young family should definitely consider – the grand parental entourage. Brilliant. We’ve done this a few times now – with Karen’s parents and my Mum, together and separately and had a great time. We’ve had a couple of trips to Majorca and plenty to Wales and the like and had great times on all of them. The extra support takes the pressure off, gives the kids another outlet too and you may even have time for a meal or together with baby-sitters on site! Well worth it if you can cope with parents/the in-laws in tow!

Having done a few of those trips, we braved a solo trip again and took Tessa and Tilly to a Eurocamp called Altomincio near Lake Garda in Italy. Tessa was 4 and Tilly was around 18 months. It was very family friendly and one of our best holidays to date. Tessa still talks about it over 2 years later. They had an amazing pool with slides and where the water was shallow all over (they had other pools, but this one suited us best), and loads of other stuff there for us to do. We also had a hire car and got out and about a fair bit. Definitely the sort of holiday we would do again in the future. I think when it’s just you without extended family or friends you need to have loads to do and places to go. We had a good week two summers ago in Weymouth in Dorset in a static caravan – plenty of beaches, stuff on site, Sea Life, fairground rides and we tagged on a few days with friends in Bridport afterwards (the Broadchurch town).

We’ve also now holidayed with friends a few times and that’s also a great option. It gives you some other adult company and most importantly gives the kids friends to play with. The kids find it extra special and love it. There’s plenty of time for you as parents to spend quality time with your children, but largely removes the tensions that can arise if it’s just you as immediate family. There is also scope for you to fit in a ‘date night’ as well and as long as you’re prepared to be open an honest with those you’re away with as to what you want to do, you can have time all together, but also do some stuff yourself. We did Majorca with friends last October which was amazing and we’ve booked to go to Devon in June with some close friends and their two boys who are two of the girls’ best friends.

So that’s my view on holidays, having had another great trip away. As I thought about holidaying in a bit more detail with a view to writing this piece, I thought about what I get out of it too. And it’s the time with the children – watching them play and interact, seeing them develop (and development on holidays seems to pick up pace every time), and just watching them with an immense feeling of pride. Having kids and being with them is the best job going. Tough, but great and that’s why I’m excited about what the rest of my shared parental leave has in store for me, Karen and the three little tinkers I am lucky enough to call my children.

See you in the next post – thanks for reading, Jonny

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2 thoughts on “A false start to shared parental leave – let’s talk about holidays – heaven or hell?!

  1. Excellent and interesting read, Jonny. Despite the detail, I’m glad you kept the adolescent Greek holiday references suitably vague.


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