My son won’t come on holiday with us unless his girlfriend can join us

Tell me about it: I’m worried that our much-needed family holiday is about to be ruined

PROBLEM: Every year we holiday as a family in the same holiday home (not ours) here in Ireland. Our children are all adults now in their 20s and still join us.

However, my middle son has a girlfriend and has asked if she could join us this year. My first response was no, this is our holiday, but he has become quite upset about it and is suggesting that he, or they, as he puts it, won’t go unless as a couple. My husband has a very demanding job, and this is our time to relax and unwind and for him this holiday is very essential. I have tried talking with my son about this, but for him it’s suddenly an “either or situation, and I’m worried that our much-needed family holiday is about to be ruined.

I would appreciate your advice as how best to handle this.

ADVICE: These divisive points in families can often be painful and upsetting but they also offer an opportunity for growth and development, for everyone! We have habits of relaxing and habits of enjoying our core family units and when these are challenged, we can find ourselves resistant and stubborn. But change is inevitable, and you have found yourself at a point where you are asked to rise to the demands of a new situation and instead of reacting perhaps you need to take some time to reflect. You have different needs competing for attention: your husband’s need for rest and recuperation, your son’s need to have his partner with him on holiday and perhaps your need to have holiday time with just your family. I wonder if it is possible for all these needs to be met.

Can you find out what your husband finds restful and playful and ensure that everyone buys into spending a good section of time doing this – you can even make a game of it by asking the family to guess what they think he needs in terms of fun and comparing notes.

The current plan of a family holiday where there is tension and resentment will hardly do anyone any good so stepping away from opposing positions is an essential move and you are the one who must set the tone as you are the one seeking an answer. Before you offer a solution to your son, it is really important that you find out why it is so important to him that his girlfriend comes with him on this holiday. You have to genuinely listen to his story as if you do any fake listening, he will spot it instantly and become defensive. This is harder than it sounds as you may already feel that he is being selfish and this attitude will come across in your interactions, so clear out your own emotional ground before the conversation starts. You might speak to someone you trust and ask them what they hear in your tone and keep practising with this friend until you are satisfied that your tone is carrying no condemnation.

When your son feels fully understood, he may be prepared to hear what you have to say about the needs of the rest of the family and then you may find that options open up for you both. Explore some “what if” scenarios, eg what if the girl were invited for a long weekend in the middle of the holiday, what if you and your husband spent a weekend in a hotel, what if the adult children were in charge of the whole holiday and any other options which come to mind. At this point, with adult children in your lives, holidays need to be negotiated with everyone and some changes are bound to be needed. This may be very sad for you and you might feel the loss or ending of treasured time spend with your core unit, yet this is what successful families do – they grow, leave and create their own lives. It may be that the time has arrived where you spend shorter times on holidays as a core unit and more times either as an extended gathering or go off on your own with your husband for some of your time off.

It might be interesting to look at your resistance – are you worried about your middle son having sex in a bedroom next door? Have you spoken to him about this and is there a kind of understanding amongst all your adult children about expected behaviour? These are often difficult discussions, particularly if you feel that your son’s relationship is likely to be a casual one. It is hard to withhold judgement when you love and care for someone so much and you are likely to feel you have greater wisdom and knowledge than he does but he is an adult and as such must carry responsibility for his own choices.

The ask now is that you be the bigger person, use this small crisis as a vehicle for growth and change and be open to new life stage that is in front of you. Remember that this is your holiday too and you need to find relaxation, joy and fun in your time off – add this to the list of needs in your discussions.