Q. I’m separated from the father of my kids, who are aged 9 and 12. Their dad has more money and annual leave than me and last summer took them for two weeks at an all-inclusive resort in Greece. They came back raving about the food, tennis coaching and water sports. Their holiday with me? Four nights near Miami Beach on the Lincolnshire coast (about 30 miles from home), where we camped, went rock-pooling and made eggy bread. It was fun in its own way, but honestly just a bit rubbish. My dad offering to pay for us to go abroad this year has made things worse — a kind gesture that also feels like a comment on my life choices. Do you have any suggestions of fun, cheap breaks?
A. When it comes to parenting I always feel as though I’m testing the depth of the water with both feet. Like most mums I suffered from delusions of adequacy, but it turns out that kids are like Ikea furniture — you have no idea how much assembly is required until it’s way too late. If motherhood were an ad for a job vacancy it would read: “Time off — nil. All entertainment provided by you. No holiday pay, no sick pay; hell, simply no pay. Must be good at finding the lost glove and making mince interesting. Guilt — constant.”
Guilt is the gift that just keeps on giving, and we mums have a throbbing guilt gland. If only we had read the fine print of our mothering manuals we’d know that we are runners-up in the human race.
But although I’m occasionally tempted to shove my kids back into the condom vending machine for a refund, I love them with a primal passion. And our kids love us back, despite our faults and foibles. What greater gift can there be than quality time with your mum? Which is why you need to dial down the angst-ometer. Parenting isn’t a competition. You should be happy that your kids get to have such great experiences with their dad, while your simpler holidays will keep your offspring grounded.
Thanks to book tours and journalism I’m lucky enough to have enjoyed luxurious adventures all over the world. But without doubt my happiest memories are of family holidays in ramshackle beach huts that were only standing because the termites had linked arms or in a camper van so cramped that it would have made a sardine claustrophobic. After a long drive down the coast my three sisters and I would explode from that van like champagne from a shaken bottle; I can still hear our squeals of delight as we raced into the sea to try to bridge the yawning chasm between us and buoyancy.
Now, with children of our own, we’ve kept up the tradition of those very basic beachside holidays. Each summer my sisters and I take our kids rock-pooling, boogie-boarding, sausage-sizzling and charades-playing. It’s hilarious, chaotic, simple, sunburnt, no-star bliss … and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
So relax, you’ve not officially forfeited your shot at mother of the year. In the end it’s not where you go, but who you go with and how much love there is. And thank your darling dad — as his kind offer proves, the first 50 years of parenting are always the hardest.
Monte Rosa in the Italian Alps
Make it happen
Italy: For big, low-cost adventure take them to the Italian Alps, where you can hike from a mountain refuge and stay in reasonably priced private rooms in dark-wood chalets (ask for a family room rather than a dorm). In the shadow of the Monte Rosa peaks, Rifugio Pastore is an hour’s hike above the mountain town of Alagna Valsesia (also linked by bus and a short hike) and stands in a meadow by a stream amid incredible scenery; B&B from £31pp (rifugimonterosa.it). Fly to Milan then take a train and bus to Alagna.
UK: Nothing screams Five on a Treasure Island-style summer-holiday magic like a ferry ride — which makes the Isle of Wight perfect. Two miles (and cyclable) from the port at Yarmouth, Camp Wight has traditional tents, domes and even hammocks for hire; pitches for two adults and two children from £20 a night (campwight.co.uk).
Q. It’s that time of the year for booking the summer family beach break in Portugal with my husband and in-laws. My problem is that my father-in-law insists on wearing Speedos. I can’t hack another year of hiding my distaste. How do I get out of this annual torture?
A. Speedos, aka budgie smugglers, are so skimpy that you can detect a man’s religion when he’s wearing them. It could be worse though — a boyfriend once took me on holiday to Sylt Island in the North Sea to meet his German father, having casually mentioned that his dad favoured Freikörperkultur but failing to explain that this is the German word for naturism. I didn’t know where to look or what to say. And believe me, we weren’t making “small talk” — he could have pole vaulted down the beach on his appendage. Plus he had a passion for beach volleyball. I’ll give you a moment to picture that.
So, dear reader, gird your loins and avoid his — just keep your line of sight high or stay down in the surf. Your father-in-law’s brief briefs are no reason to cut short your family holiday. What about a lovely pair of board shorts for his birthday? Or a wetsuit? Otherwise just enjoy the comedic value. The whole scenario certainly gives new meaning to “talking bollocks”.
Budgie smugglers are not for everyone
Make it happen
You — and probably your father-in-law — may feel more comfortable in France, where slips de bain (Speedo-style trunks) are mandatory at public pools. Apartments at Les Calanques des Issambres are 100m from the beach on the Gulf of St Tropez; seven nights’ self-catering for four from £338 (pierreetvacances.com). Fly to Nice.
Do you need Kathy’s help with a travel problem? Email us at [email protected]