Not every family is packaged in a conventional format, with two parents and two children conveniently spaced apart in ages. We may have two adults at the helm, but with three kids aged 11, eight and two we are outnumbered indeed. Sibling rivalry rears its ugly head most acutely in the summer holidays, with the oldest two battling for attention and the age gap between them and the youngest causes its own problems. It’s tricky finding a break to suit us all and often our ‘holiday’ turns out to be no such thing – my husband and I spend our time running ourselves ragged chasing the toddler then screaming ourselves hoarse trying to intervene in older kids’ squabbles. And worst of all, the kids tend to get lumped together and miss out on individual parental attention.
This year I decided it was time to try something different and somewhat radical – to split the children up and take separate mini-holidays. Dad would have a boys’ weekend with Leo, while the ‘girls’ (Amy and I) would have a well-deserved mini pamper break. We’d take these holidays at different times so one parent could stay at home with the other two kids.
'The prospect of a night in a "posh", "grown-up" hotel had my city-loving daughter packing her bag in double-quick time.'
East Sussex with its good choice of campsites was just far enough from our home for the boys to feel they’d actually been on holiday. They were fortunate with the weather, and Leo really enjoyed putting up the tent and the novelty of cooking and eating outdoors. I’d booked them on a bushcraft course at the fabulous Wilderness Wood, where they had fun building dens and learning how to make fire – you know, all the Neanderthal stuff that dads and lads enjoy. They returned saying they’d loved their two nights under the stars and would definitely do it again.
Meanwhile, the prospect of a night in a ‘posh’, ‘grown-up’ hotel had my city-loving daughter packing her bag in double-quick time. It’s not always easy to find hotels that do pamper breaks that include children, but the Donnington Valley Hotel & Spa in Berkshire includes family breaks and spa days among its many offers. Its health club and spa is one of the most highly rated in the country, with an 18m swimming pool, sauna, steam and aromatherapy rooms plus a state-of–the-art gym and dance studio. We both agreed that our treatments (nails for Amy and a head massage for me) were sheer bliss, while Amy loved the swimming and I enjoyed having time to relax on the loungers. After a delicious meal in the hotel’s award-winning restaurant, we retired to our large and very comfortable room, where I slept better than I had in years.
There are pros and cons to taking the children on separate breaks. It’s great to have one-on-one time with them, but it can prove expensive, especially when the other parent has to take time off to stay at home with the other children. One way of keeping costs down is to stay at a YHA – on our last trip we booked into the YHA Salisbury, well located for the sites of the pretty medieval city in Wiltshire. On this occasion, I took both Amy and Leo because they were both at ages when they could appreciate what the area had to offer, while their dad stayed at home with Ronan. They took part in a morning of clay modelling at the magnificent Salisbury Cathedral while I took time to wander around the shops. In the afternoon we all joined the tour of the tower, climbing 332 steps to reach the foot of the spire, which offers spectacular views over the city and surrounding countryside. We also made a not-to-be-missed pilgrimage to Stonehenge, where an audio-guide helped the children make sense of the fascinating stone memorial.
Read more about UK family holidays and breaks.