The family holiday just got political

Decentralisation of democracy is in vogue these days, but I’m beginning to wonder if it can get a bit too local. I refer, obviously, to my own household, which for many years has functioned splendidly as a benign dictatorship or, perhaps more accurately, a power-sharing executive. It’s a messy compromise, but it has kept the peace for more than two decades. Now, however, our settled constitutional model is being threatened by the undeniable fact that the spawn are now adults.

For the moment, there is no sign of a full separatist movement from either, but claims for devolution are interfering with big decisions. Nowhere has this been more challenging than in the arrangements for our recent holiday. I should add that we are actually encouraging the spawn to adopt a greater degree of fiscal autonomy, but this is one area of central control where they still seem satisfied with the existing settlement.

The issue has become more pressing since the boy finished college and returned home. Three years of autonomy in a co-operative household have given him some very dangerous ideas. The girl has only just started university but fell early into radical views. The idea of government by consent is, I have to admit, a hard pill to swallow. Personally, I’ve long believed in no representation without taxation, but we have to balance this with our desire not to drive the boy from home until he is ready to leave, not least because the cost of renting would probably force him to relocate to a freeport on Teesside. (Actually he is ready, it’s just that his bank account has reservations.)

The vacation was a prime example of the risk posed by this movement for democracy. I’m not suggesting that our kitchen was turned into Tiananmen Square, but there were protests that the old guard was not used to having to tolerate, and left us hankering for the days when you could say, “Pack your bags, we’re going to Italy.”

For a start, we were required to negotiate dates – what madness is this? The boy was legitimately hemmed in by final course requirements; his sister less legitimately by the priority of seeing her mates back in London. We finally identified a workable window, though the girl, nervous of two weeks as the hostage of her parents, wondered if a fortnight might offer too much of a good thing.

We reached a con­sensus on the US, but one wanted beaches, the other cities. One was keen to see new places, while the other retained a strong belief in never going anywhere for the first time. My own desire not to spend the entire holiday driving long hours through desert landscapes like an extra from a Mad Max movie was definitely taken into consideration before being rejected by the electorate.

Then the girl declared that, following the Roe vs Wade ruling, she would not visit any state that banned abortion. We applauded her sentiment but, with 10 days till departure, this was a major hiccup. Thankfully, a state supreme court put a temporary hold on Utah’s intentions so its appointment with Gilead was delayed at least until we had crossed back into Nevada.

Domestic tussles are more mundane but cover issues such as how long you can hog a bathroom, being mindful of energy bills and how many times a week they walk the dog. No doubt these tensions are part of the evolutionary process designed to smooth separation. But it was easier when one could simply invoke the spirit of Nike and tell them to “just do it”.

My conclusion is that having children away at college is in fact the perfect model once they hit adulthood. They haven’t entirely left home, but they aren’t here all the time either. Messaging apps, visits and pleas for cash demolish distance. They are, in other words, Schrödinger’s spawn: absent but present. There are pros and cons, but the democratic deficit is definitely easier to manage.

Follow Robert on Twitter @robertshrimsley and email him at [email protected]

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