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Separate Trips Can Work for Families

October 01, 2000|EILEEN OGINTZ

Dr. Julie White was happily playing in the Caribbean sand with her 10-year-old daughter, Rachel, not the least bit concerned that her husband, Bob, was at work, teaching in Massachusetts.

Jeff Klute enjoyed touring the Louvre with his teenage daughter Kate, while his wife, Meg, and son Tom went camping closer to home in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

And Susan Cane Graziani took her 10-year-old and 7-year-old sons to a weeklong Offshore Sailing School family course in Florida, without her husband, Roberto.

"My friends were intrigued that I did it," said Graziani, a management professor and consultant who lives in Connecticut and works in Manhattan. "But we needed the time together, and my husband couldn't leave that week. The boys and I had a wonderful time and a different kind of bonding experience."

White, a Boston surgeon, couldn't agree more. She and her husband make a habit of taking their daughter on separate trips when conflicting schedules don't permit travel together as a family. "We miss each other, but we don't hesitate to go," she said. "I feel totally comfortable traveling alone with my child. And it turns out to be special for everyone, including the parent at home who gets some time alone."

"Just be careful whose needs you're fulfilling," said Dr. David Fassler, a child psychiatrist and associate professor at the University of Vermont medical school in Burlington. "Are you doing this for your child or to re-create some memories you have from your childhood--or wish you had?"

In many cases, parents say it's impossible to coordinate their work schedules with their children's school breaks. Others point to the kids' own frenetic schedules: One may have basketball camp or a soccer tournament while the rest of the family is primed for vacation.

Many families take separate vacations to introduce a child to a favorite activity for which their spouse has little enthusiasm. That's what Paul Schwartzberg did when he took his young son skiing in Colorado, leaving his wife and daughter behind in New Paltz, N.Y. "It's more fun going as a family," he said. "But it's hard to justify spending all that money when they don't want to ski."

Check out any vacation spot these days, and chances are you'll bump into happily married husbands and wives traveling solo with the kids. I've certainly found myself in that situation and have met others on ski slopes and cruise ships, on California and Florida beaches, at theme parks in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and Orlando, Fla. Sometimes moms or dads are alone with the kids. Other trips they team up with another family, as Jeff Klute did when he took his daughter to Europe. "The only downside was that she spent more time with her friends than with me," he said, laughing.

They may also be traveling with just one child. Stephen McClellan, the father of three, recently returned to their Florida home from a rigorous Outward Bound rafting trip with his 15-year-old son, Clinton. His two other children were far too young for such an outdoor adventure, but with Clinton, he said, this was a "chance to appreciate each other outside our regular roles. I do think it brought us closer."

Psychologists and child psychiatrists say such trips can be wonderful, memorable experiences for children. It's also healthy for kids to see their parents in something other than their typical roles--Mom on a white-water raft; Dad organizing meals and school schedules.

"I think it's easier--one less person's needs to meet," said familytravel author Laura Sutherland, who traveled extensively with her two children Madeleine and Walker and without her husband, Lance, for her latest book, "Tropical Family Vacations."

But the experts agree that parents should not plan such trips at the expense of time spent all together or as a couple. "If a family never takes a trip all together, they may be avoiding issues between them," said Jill Waterman, a UCLA family psychologist.

Every family relationship--siblings, parent-child, couple--needs nurturing, said Don Wertlieb, director of the Tufts University Center for Children in the Boston area. "Remember that vacations can be important building blocks," Wertlieb said.

Jeff Klute thinks so. He's already planning where to take his son. "The best part," he said, "comes after the trip's over--looking back."

Taking the Kids appears the first and third week of every month.

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