When My Pre-Teen Rejects Our Family’s Summer Vacation

Like millions of mothers, I simultaneously dread and relish the upcoming summer vacation, when my kids morph from human pinballs, bouncing from school to sports practice to music lessons, into blank-eyed slugs, vegging on the couch with a cell phone, a video game controller or an iPad in hand.

Why the building anxiety? Watching my intelligent and talented offspring melt their gray matter with hours of mind-numbing electronic brain candy, barely breathing fresh air for three months unless I kick them out the door, and being interrupted every 15 minutes with a demand for food, drink, or an urgent request to find something, see something, listen to something, do something — especially knowing I cave to most of those pleas because I’m sentimental enough to still love that my teen and pre-teen “need” me.

Why the eager anticipation? I won’t have ten drop-offs and pick-ups every day, and I won’t have to turn into the evil homework nag every night. In addition, we can finally relax and spend quality and quantity time together just hanging out during an out-of-town excursion — where there is no laundry to send guilt shivers down my spine, no computer calling my husband’s name, no chores for the kids to ignore.

But now, my daughter is putting a major wrench in the works.

A friend invited us to a wedding several states away, and another friend invited us to stay with her and her husband during the entire trip — and treat us to a whirlwind of amazing animal adventures — from feeding animals at the zoo and riding a hot air balloon over a wild animal park to camping out with coyotes and exploring a cave that leads to sea lion babies. To my nature-loving husband and I, it sounds like heaven. To my 14-year-old son, it sounds alright. And to my 12-year-old daughter who has eight pets and wants to be a veterinarian, I thought it would be dream!

Instead, she says the idea is a nightmare, and she’d rather stay home.


1) She can’t stand to leave her pets, even though her grandparents take great care of them when we’re gone. She insists she has to stay local to check on them daily.

2) Her demure, pensive approach to the world is at odds with my bubbly enthusiasm, which is why she declared that she has no desire to spend five torturous days with a weird family that she only puts up with all summer because she has regular diversions of friends, gifted classes, and dance lessons.

3) She hates to pack and wants to basically bring everything from her bedroom in her suitcase, making the entire packing process extremely long and emotional. (Okay, I have to admit she got that one from me.)

4) She thinks she can find much more excitement playing on her iPod and watching cooking shows while staying with a friend or two or three who will let her sleep over during those days we are out of town, and she’s willing to stay at her grandparents’ house if those plans don’t come to fruition (the likely scenario unless I arrange the sleepovers).

5) She thinks she’s mature enough to make this decision herself. So maybe this is her big test to prove it… to show that she can handle being “in charge” for five days? She did tell me the other day that she plans to marry someone she can “boss around the way you boss around dad.” (I took offense to that and explained that we both do things for each other; I didn’t tell her she doesn’t see when I pay back some of my husband’s favors behind closed doors.)

That’s where I’m stuck. She is pretty mature, but she’s 12. Does she really know what she wants? Many adults don’t really know what they want. That’s what my husband thinks. He thinks one day she’s happily waving goodbye, and the next day she’s regretting the decision and asking us to come back for her. He had to endure her wrath recently after neglecting to wake her up early to get to an end-of-year band breakfast because she said: “It didn’t matter,” so why go anyway? Apparently, it mattered after all her friends told her how much fun they had.

So when it comes to her new declaration that she no longer wants to take trips with us, is she being forthright or being a brat?

Regardless of the answer, I have to make a decision. And my dilemma boils down to two choices:

1) Do I try to pawn her off on her grandparents and have a vacation without the family’s biggest whiner and spare myself some of the late-night hours taking on extra work projects to pay for the trip — but never forgive myself for the wonderful memories that will be a little sour because one-fourth of our family will be missing?

2) Or do I force her to go, spending lots more money to drag along a moody pre-teen girl who will spend her days complaining, dawdling, and making us late — and tell us in the end — after all the surprised smiles sneaking out the corners of her mouth while holding baby animals — “it wasn’t anything special, and I would have rather stayed home”?

My brain picks the former; my heart picks the latter.

If only “dad” was the “boss,” he could decide – and I’d be absolved of guilt!

3 thoughts on “When My Pre-Teen Rejects Our Family’s Summer Vacation

  1. I finally realized if my daughter thought she was mature enough to make this decision herself, maybe it’s time to let her prove it. I would recommend this to any parent going through a similar dilemma. Even if you are reluctant, if you agree to let a preteen or teen stay with a family member or trusted friend, you may be happily surprised by the outcome.

    When I agreed to this arrangement for my daughter, I wasn’t sure she really knew what she wanted, despite the fact that she was 12 years old. I imagined that one day she would be happily waving goodbye, and the next day she would be regretting the decision and begging us to come back for her.

    The end result, when I gave her the autonomy to choose, was that my daughter initially said she had no interest in joining us on a long-distance trip, and we made arrangements for her to stay with her grandparents. But as she saw us preparing, she started to change her mind. We told her she should only come along if she truly wanted to go. That’s when she made a firm commitment to join us and promised to be open-minded about our plans. Since then, she’s been a much happier traveler, whether we are going apple picking for the day or spending a couple weeks away from home. She now pushes me to arrange family vacations at the age of 15.

    Parents are often pleasantly surprised when they relax the grip they are so used to clenching. Allowing kids, especially older ones, to have control over decisions that affect them changes the equation and often adds up to an ownership stake in the outcome, a more pleasant demeanor and a growing sense of maturity.


  2. Ok, first things first, I just want to let you know that she definitely, definitely appreciates everything you do for her. But coming from a teenager and building on what you said yourself, there’s no point spending that extra money on bringing her along for her to just spend the whole time hating you! I think it would be good for her to have some independence and you would also be letting her know you trust her to make good decisions. Emmamori x


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