Every year about this time, Teresa George's friends start asking if her parents would like to adopt a few extra grown-up kids into their family . . . for a couple of weeks, anyway.
That's because every summer, George's parents treat their entire brood--13 in all, including themselves, three daughters and a son, sons-in-law and grandchildren--to a week or more at the luxe Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, just north of Santa Barbara.
"When we started talking about getting married, my dad brought up the trip and told my husband, 'This is what we do in this family. Plan your career accordingly,' " laughed George, who grew up in Dallas and now lives in Winter Park, Fla., with her husband and two children.
Though scattered from Los Angeles to Arkansas and Florida, none of the Taylor siblings, all in their 30s, have missed a year since they were children.
George acknowledges that her own family couldn't afford such a vacation every year--rates typically are around $500 a day, including meals, for a family of four--if her parents didn't pick up the tab. "It's better than Christmas," she said. "My best memories are all there."
"It's our pleasure," said her mother Camille Taylor, noting with a chuckle that her children have never offered to pay. She and her husband believe it's worth every dollar. Like other families with grown children, the Taylors have discovered it is difficult to gather everyone together, even for Christmas. As result, she and her husband don't see the grandchildren as often as they'd like.
The annual trip, the Taylors are convinced, has helped keep the family together. "It's something we all count on," she explained.
Even better, it means Camille Taylor gets a vacation too. "I don't have to make up any beds or cook for everybody," she said.
Resort owners and travel agents around the country say they are seeing many family groups such as the Taylors vacationing together with Grandma and Grandpa picking up the bill. They're sitting around big round dinner tables on cruise ships, relaxing on the beach at seaside resorts and condos in the Caribbean and Hawaii, touring Israel and Italy, fishing in Minnesota and Colorado and playing miniature golf at YMCA family camps.
For some lucky families, it's an annual or frequent event. Vernon Valentine, for one, takes about 40 relatives on vacation every year. "I feel great that I can do this," the 83-year-old great-grandfather said from his Orange County home.
"It's nice to do something that's just fun," said Dianne Couleur, who lives in Texas and has taken her family to Mexico twice.
For others, it's a onetime splurge for an anniversary, a birthday or simply because it's time. "I worried that the next time we would all get together would be my funeral," said Ann Schafer, a widow who lives in suburban Philadelphia. "It has been 10 years since we were all together."
So last summer, Schafer gathered her three children, their spouses and six grandchildren at the Tyler Place, a Vermont resort on Lake Champlain. "It's important to do," Schafer said. "Go for it before the grandchildren get too old."
"Plan far in advance and consider how much the grandparents really want to be with the grandchildren," counseled 90-year-old Frances Tyler, who has been watching families come and go at Tyler Place since 1945.
It's also wise to make sure the family has enough room to spread out and enough different activities to keep three generations and disparate interests amused.
If the cousins and siblings don't all get along, they won't on vacation, said Marion Lindblad-Goldberg, a family psychologist who practices at the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center. Consider taking one child's family at a time, she said.
Don't let the money symbolize a parent's control or power over grown children. And before booking the trip, discuss the idea thoroughly with everyone. Families have such limited vacation time today, Lindblad-Goldberg said, they may not want to give up a vacation they had planned just because the grandparents want to take them on a trip.
Still, these trips are well worth all of the effort and expense they require, especially when families can't get together otherwise. Relationships with grandparents are important to children's development, said Don Wertlieb, a child psychologist who heads Tufts University's child studies department. Such relationships help children learn values and give them a sense of belonging and continuity.
"These trips involve a complex set of compromises," said Wertlieb, who knows that firsthand, having just returned from a week in Palm Beach, Fla., at his in-laws' condo. "I love them very much," he said, "but I would rather have been going to museums in London than sitting on the beach in Florida."
It doesn't matter if the trip the grandparents are suggesting isn't your dream vacation, Wertlieb suggests. "It's just one vacation that's worth the compromise when families hardly see each other."
The important side is that such trips can build memories and nurture relationships.
The Schafer family, meanwhile, had such a good time together in Vermont that they're all returning for another week this summer.
And this time, said Ann Schafer, her children are paying for themselves. "All you've got to do," she said, "is start the ball rolling."
\o7 Taking the Kids appears weekly. \f7