Why I hate “family friendly” travel

Cycling Martha's Vineyard With Kids

As the mother of four children and an avid traveler can I rant for a minute about how annoyed I am by the term “family friendly” as it relates to travel?  

On the surface, you’d think it was a good thing, wouldn’t you? “Family friendly” should mean welcoming to children, accommodating of the needs of young families and perhaps priced in a way that is considerate to the family budget. By that definition, I’m all in favor of “family friendly.”

The problem is that “family friendly” actually has layers of meaning that are not nearly so lovely. In fact, if someplace is advertising itself, or comes recommended as being “family friendly” it almost guarantees that I won’t be interested in visiting, even though I have four kids.

In my experience, “family friendly” has come to mean, “adult-unfriendly.” It often means you can expect very low standards of civilized behavior, children behaving in socially inappropriate ways, and everyone else expected to smile and take it, no matter what the little darlings dish out. I once had to bodily remove someone else’s child from the middle of my dining table in a “family friendly” restaurant, with my own four children seated, wide-eyed, around it. That’s just not cool.

The other thing “family friendly” has come to mean is dumbed down and pre-chewed. Any real cultural interactions will be so carefully cartoonized and staged that the children are sure to have “fun” but are equally sure not to come away with any real  or significant experience or learning. As a mom, and a teacher and a former child who traveled a great deal, I find this highly offensive. The assumption is that kids aren’t intelligent, or interested, or up to the task of digging into the real world or real experiences. Is that true? I know hundreds of intelligent, engaged, interested children who would beg to differ.

Labeling something “family friendly” screams, out of control kids, parents who can’t be bothered to actually train their kids to interact with the real world in a meaningful way, crappy kids menus instead of decent, nutritious food, and plastic counterfeit experiences in place of real world interactions. And we wonder why kids are so often bored, badly behaved, fat, and uninterested with crappy attitudes and temper tantrums on the side? We’re selling them so far short, why would they be otherwise?

Do I appreciate family pricing, changing tables for babies and a little extra grace when my little ones are struggling at the end of a long day, of course. We all do. But that’s not what “family friendly” is really about, and I’d rather not waste my kids childhoods on drivel, thank you. Is it more work to help kids learn to develop culturally and socially appropriate behavior so that they can hack it in the real world and non-family-friendly experiences? You bet it is, but what are we doing as parents, if not preparing our kids (as soon as possible) to navigate the real world? Why would we relegate them to an artificially contrived version of the world, painted in bright colours and cartoon figures and populated with touch screens and chicken nuggets? Because it’s easier for me as the Mom? Hmmm.

Here’s something I’ve learned: the world is infinitely “family friendly.” There are families everywhere, in every culture and children around the world are lovingly, gently, grafted into their parents’, family’s and community’s lives as naturally as can be, as they demonstrate their ability. Around the world our kids have been welcomed with open arms into the very finest “family friendly” establishments, run by real families, without one ounce of contrived child-life nonsense whitewashed on top. If you’re diving in and traveling with your kids, I encourage you to bravely reach beyond the “family friendly” marketing and take your kids out into the real world, to have real experiences, instead of settling for a sanitized, watered down version.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | November 12, 2013
Category: Family Travel

One Response to “Why I hate “family friendly” travel”

  1. Kelly Kreuzberger Says:

    I loved the new point of view that the entire world is family friendly and waiting to be cracked open. Thank you for that!