Can three generations have a harmonious holiday?

Holidays were exhausting when the children – Sholto, Nicholas and Larissa – were very young.

I can still recall vividly hot days on the beach with melting ice-cream.

But, over the years, things improved. Our growing brood became great company on self-catering summer breaks, and we dreaded the moment when trips with the old folks became the opposite of cool.

So it was hard for me and my husband Michael to adjust once they were marrying and had their own plans. But then the grandchildren came along – and with them, the advent of the three-generational holiday, which are usually a joy, but not without their hiccups.

My 70th birthday was a case in point.

I have an August birthday, and my husband wanted everyone together. But it wasn’t straightforward getting three grown-up working children away for a week. And, of course, our grandchildren, too – Sholto’s children, Louis and Tallula, who at the time were 12 and 10; and Larissa’s baby son, Jasper, who was then 15 months. Yet, Michael pulled off a date-matching miracle. The next obstacle was the location. It needed to be somewhere we all wanted to be. My eldest son, Sholto, is a creature of habit, and always holidays in Portugal at the same hotel, so my husband moved the mountain and took a villa nearby. He also hired a car with a baby seat, ordered a cot, and booked flights. I was in awe.

Arriving at Faro Airport, tired, excited, and feet hardly on Portuguese soil, we encountered our first hiccup. Where was the man with our car? My beloved had booked with a cheap car-rental company – big mistake – paid in advance, and had been promised someone would meet us. Hours later, with the baby wailing, everyone sighing pointedly, and my husband storming around the airport, we finally had to accept defeat and hire another car.

When we eventually arrived at the villa, though, it was roomier, lighter, and with a better pool and garden than we had expected. But the cot had been forgotten.

And the high chair.

The following morning brought sunshine, all the children splashing in the pool, and I was in my matriarchal seventh heaven.

I was in charge of the kitchen – or so I thought. Sholto: Why isn’t there a juicer? 

Nick: Instant coffee? 

Larissa: Is this lettuce really washed? My children’s parenting skills, on the other hand, were exceptional. Larissa was ingenious with discipline. Jasper had developed a habit of hurling food on the floor. I confess to wanting to let him get away with it, but she persevered, and every time he did it, turned his high chair round to face away. She soon had him tamed.

The day of my birthday dawned. Lunch, a special dinner out as well and, with everyone gathered, Nick was keen to take a group photo. He painstakingly arranged us, and the children, and asked a waiter to take the picture. It was cosy and heart-warming, as the holiday had been.

However, a small argument erupted after lunch. Nick said he needed the car without saying why, and the others wanted to go to the beach. Nick got his way.

It cast a tiny shadow but, by evening, dining out in a dreamy, open-air courtyard, everything was sweetness and light again.

I’ve got something for you, Mom, 

Nick said, producing an enormous scroll, tied with a big red bow. I unravelled it, expecting a poster, but it was the group photo from lunch. He’d driven to Faro on a boiling day and spent the afternoon having it enlarged.

I’d had a birthday – and a three-generational holiday – to remember.

Sandra’s book Tell the Girl (Simon & Schuster) is out on

Sandra’s family-holiday tips:

1 Divide up duties. Someone needs to be in charge in the kitchen, but share the shopping.

2 Check – and double-check -that baby paraphernalia too large for luggage will be there.

3 Young couples need space and privacy. We grandparents have a role – babysitting!

Can three generations have a harmonious holiday? Photo Gallery

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