As I come out the other end of parenthood, with my babies looming over me, each 6-plus feet tall, I often think about how much I’ve loved traveling with them. I’m prone to spontaneously blurt out, “Remember that pink Jeep ride in Arizona?” or “The lazy river pool at Atlantis was the best ever, am I right?!”

Curating their childhood travels was a passion of mine (coworkers knew better than to ask, “How was the vacay?” when I returned to the office after spring break, unless they had an hour or so to kill). I showed my guys some of my favorite haunts—the Cape Cod bay beaches where I was once a little kid collecting shells; the corny, time-warpy charm of Colonial Williamsburg; the dreamy scenery of the Hollywood Hills, awash in pink flowers and their perfume, something so alien to us East Coasters.

I’ve always been the Mom-in-Chief, finding cool activities (Pasta making! Medical oddity museums! Beaches entirely covered by bellowing seals!) to explore.

We’ve also experienced new things together—from the berry-munching bear by Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons (kind of my worst nightmare and dream all rolled up in one) to stomping around Scandinavia, avoiding the feral sheep and goats as we walked towards glacial pools.

Through it all, I’ve always been the Mom-in-Chief, finding cool activities (Pasta making! Medical oddity museums! Beaches entirely covered by bellowing seals!) to explore and tracking down the best pancakes in a 10-mile radius.

I assumed it would always be that way until my recent trips with my college-age crew. Reeling from the deaths of two dear friends who passed away at midlife, I decided to go full carpe diem and cash in our carefully hoarded frequent flyer miles. “No time like the present” became my motto, and I planned two trips (Paris, Scotland) for the whole family—me, my husband, and our two sons, both on the cusp of post-college life.

As always, I dove into my research, making a list of favorite places I’d been to in the past as well as googling “off the beaten path” + (destination city).” In Paris, I targeted cafes where my parents once sat having coffee when they were in their 20s, a favorite museum of mine, and a park full of Victorian follies that I wanted them to see. For Scotland, I spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing over where to have high tea—the classic, chintz-covered spot that had the highest ratings, or the runner-up which offered a more modern take on tea (but of course still with crustless cucumber sandwiches). I had lists, links, and Instagram feeds cued up and was ready to roll.

Vacationing with Grown Kids: Who’s The Leader Here?

However, as we traveled, we veered off course—as so often is the case in life and parenthood—and took a sharp turn from my meticulous plans.

A funny thing had happened over the past few years: My sons had grown up. No longer was I shepherding around two little blank slates who’d obediently go wherever mom took them. Instead, when we hit foreign soil, I found myself caught in a midlife riptide as I discovered my little guys had become fully functioning adults with curious minds of their own. Exactly the goal of parenthood, but not something I was prepared for.

Thanks to my sons, we discovered of-the-moment cafes that laid out layer cakes from a Millennial fairy tale.

In Paris, yes, they loved the Rodin Museum, brunch at Café de Flore (good coffee plus something with cheese melted over it, what’s not to like?), and watching the rabbits run amok on the lawn of Les Invalides. But one of my sons led us to a super-cool men’s clothing shop with a curious name, The Broken Arm, where odd, athletic garments were displayed like fine art and the in-store café served Black Waffles with Caramelized Rhubarb.

My other son steered us to a contemporary art museum in a grand old building, ripped open to the rafters, where somewhat menacing sculptures loomed over bare concrete floors, a far cry from the jewel-box galleries I’d shown them.

I felt out-of-step, no longer the resource who could be counted on to laser in on the most exciting stuff a foreign city had to offer. Yet I felt equally excited to see Paris through the eyes of the young folk, with their different aesthetics and palates versus those of us in Boomerland.

On to the Highlands

Vacationing With Grown Kids: Letting Go & Learning a Little | NextTribe

In Scotland, the tidal shift continued. High tea was all good—a sugar rush, exacerbated by a large dose of caffeine. And yet what was more memorable was—thanks to my sons—discovering of-the-moment cafes that laid out layer cakes from a Millennial fairy tale. What looked like dark chocolate was actually a beet cake, iced with lemon glaze. What looked like perhaps a carrot cake had three kinds of organically grown squash grated into its sweet self. An Earl Grey loaf topped with edible glitter was discovered deep in the heart of a magical mews, where tattooed and bountifully bearded 20-somethings foot-tapped to a Sinatra soundtrack as they swiped at their cellphones.

I love a café as much of the next person, but this was like traveling through the looking glass, learning a whole new (often dairy- and gluten-free) way of satisfying my unstoppable sweet tooth. It’s as if fresh hands and minds were having a taffy pull with my expectations, taking the touchstones and stretching them into new directions—close to snapping, but not quite.

When we hit the Highlands, my sons (now both of legal drinking age), encouraged me to deviate from my itinerary of castle tours to visit the Aberlour Distillery instead. One of my sons had chatted up the owner of a whiskey bar back home and was told that though small, this was the best place to visit. I have never ordered a whiskey in my 50-plus years on the planet, but after this tour, I just might order a scotch and soda one day.

Learning Through the Looking Glass

I have mixed feelings about this moment when my kids, if not taking the reins completely, are surely doing some of the steering.

On the one hand: I loved it. In the same way you hear that having younger friends keeps you attuned to new perspectives and experiences, so too does have a younger tour guide as one travels. And I’m proud of them for sniffing out places of interest and sharing them.

I have mixed feelings about this moment when my kids, if not taking the reins completely, are surely doing some of the steering.

On the other hand: I am not ready to relinquish my crown as family travel guru. I want to be the one looked up to and depended on (please don’t suggest I get a puppy; I’m allergic), the cruise director who is in control of everyone’s good time. Maybe because on a deeper level, I don’t like what this changing of the guard signals. That no one can call me a “young mom” anymore. That I’m closer to grandparenthood—should I be so lucky—than parenthood.

As I sort out these feelings, I’m trying to keep focused on how proud I am of my kids and grateful that our family travels so well together—and also that there’s a town on the coast of Italy I’d love all of us to see. Maybe if enough frequent-flyer miles accumulate, we’ll get there, and my babies will show me some more cool stuff.


The wonderful Janet Siroto has held the Editor-in-Chief position at Time Inc.’s Family Life magazine, as well as senior editorial positions at CosmopolitanRedbook and Good Housekeeping. Her writing work has appeared in New YorkThe New York TimesVogue and many others.