How to double date on a mother-daughter vacation

betty ming liu Relationships, Travel 7 Comments

bridge thumbnailVacationing in Amsterdam transitioned my daughter and I to a grown-up relationship. For the first time ever, we traveled as two women with romantic partners in tow. Thankfully, we survived the emotional leap, and the awkwardness of our new reality.

From changing diapers, I now had to treat my daughter as an adult, with an, um, private life. And, I also had acknowledge that I have a private life now too. We used to always share a room on our getaways. Now, we had boyfriends and separate bedrooms — modern family issues that I finally had to confront.

So Amsterdam brought a mommy makeover. Less bossiness on my part. More respect for personal boundaries. Most importantly, I had to embrace spontaneity. Since any one of those elements is beyond my nature, juggling all three at once became a personal miracle.

This rite of passage was sparked by my daughter’s Fall 2015 college semester abroad. She and her bf were both in Europe to take classes. My bf and I flew from New York to visit them. We shared a long weekend in Amsterdam. There were also a few days in Barcelona. Then, my bf and I went home.


After the semester ended and my daughter was home again too, I wanted her thoughts on the double-dating. How would she grade me as the mom-on-vacation? Probably a B+, I guessed, acting modest.

She paused, then broke the news. “More like a B,” she answered, trying to sound encouraging. “You were really anxious in Amsterdam and seemed stressed. But Barcelona was definitely an A!”

I was disappointed. Why not an A, all the way? After all, I tried so hard. Is this how my students feel about my stingy grading policy? This kinda sucked. Why, why?!

She explained. “Sometimes, you talked to me like I was an idiot,” she said.

Then, there was the last night in Amsterdam. Everyone was tired. I worried about the next morning. A cab was scheduled to pick us up at 5:30 a.m. for the airport. That’s when I pulled rank and told her to pack right away. She wanted to get ready at her own pace. But I kept after her until she grudgingly complied. Do what I tell you, now, now!

As she talked, I reflected. If we were truly adult traveling buddies, I’d never talk to her like that. If I wasn’t her mom, she’d act differently too. There was also other stuff that went on.

Lesson #1: Avoid questioning my child 

The need to accept — and respect — my daughter’s decisions began with the very idea for the trip.

One day, out of the blue, she texted me: “Want to come with us to Amsterdam?”

Actually, I had zero interest in Amsterdam. At my age, just thinking about the city famous for legalized pot and prostitution made me feel old. With tremendous effort, I buttoned my lip, focusing instead on the horizon. I could see it in the distance, a mother-daughter world beyond my comfort zone.

And how nice to be asked. “Yes, would love to!” I messaged back right away.

Lesson #2: Give up (some) control 

Amsterdam constantly surprised me with new lifestyle ideas.  I was especially smitten by the bicycle culture.


The organized chaos of street traffic flowed with designated lanes for the trolleys, cars, bikes and pedestrians.

bike lanes

Lesson #3: Pay most of  the bills

My daughter and her bf had both worked hard to help finance their semesters abroad. I knew they were stretched thin and was happy to cover most of our getaway weekend bills. The expenses were manageable because Amsterdam is a relatively affordable travel destination. We also went in late-November, when the weather gods pelted us with freezing, wind-whipping rain.

With an off-season discount, I booked a stylish Airbnb apartment in a neighborhood filled with cafes and gabled townhouses. At $196.50 a night for four nights, our two-bedroom duplex loft duplex a spacious dining/living room, washer/dryer, plus a new kitchen and bathroom. The fabulous location gave us genuine pleasure and was worth every dollar.


Lesson#4: Give everyone space 

My instinct was to mom us into a collective itinerary, which stressed everyone out. Who put me in charge, anyway? Besides, planning for this group was next to impossible. We were two couples on two different clocks.

They were night owls who slept in until noon and stayed up past midnight for night life or Netflix-and-chill. We were morning people out on self-guided walking tours and museum field trips, who collapsed in bed by 9 p.m.

Once I stopped trying to make things nice — whatever that means — we all relaxed. Even me. Finally, I was letting go of the anxiety that my daughter talked about.

From there, the weekend mellowed out. We did some touristy stuff together, like a canal boat tour. We also walked through the Red Light District, where sex workers in red-lit glass booths trawled for customers. As we left this creepy scene, we stopped for a freshly-made crepe.

red light

On our own, me and the bf visited the tiny Houseboat Museum for background on Amsterdam. The city, built on wooden stilts above a marsh, sits at the mouth of the Amstel River, surrounded by ring after expanding ring of circular canals. Today, 2,256 licensed houseboats still moor along the canal banks.

featured houseboat

The Van Gogh Museum gave us the ultimate Vincent Van Gogh experience. This Impressionist painter has always been one of my favorite artists. We left with a print ($8.50) of this painting below. A skeleton smoking a lit cigarette. Just what we needed for the bulletin board in our home office (left).

van gogh

Lesson #5: Appreciate the team

Navigating the city for such a short visit called for teamwork. To find good restaurants, my daughter’s bf introduced us to the smart phone apps for and its companion website, Both provide user reviews.

Meanwhile, we dazzled the young folks with our super-informative paper copy of Rick Steves “Pocket Amsterdam travel guide.

For getting around, my bf was the only one among us who knew how to read a paper map. And my baby girl was the only one with a cheap European phone; we needed her to pull up Google Maps.

As for me, I kept the apartment stocked with snacks. Provisions added to group harmony. We learned the hard way that when one of us got hangry, that hungry-angry crankiness made everyone irritable.

Lesson #6: Food is for bonding

We found great baked goods everywhere. Can you spot the sign for “gluten-free bread” in the photo of a local bakery below? At Ekoplaza, Amsterdam’s answer to Whole Foods, extra virgin olive oil (olie) was sold on tap, like it was beer. Farmers markets offered local options, including a pale green wasabi cheese.


Because the Dutch ruthlessly colonized many countries of color in centuries past, Amsterdam is known today for its international palate — from African and Egyptian restaurants to Surinamese roti.

We almost always ate dinner together, the only hours when everyone was awake. Our average evening meal ran about $23 per person without booze. At Kartika, we ordered the rijsttafel — an Indonesian sampler of many little dishes that is popular with tourists (see the two photos to your right, below).


Amsterdam’s teeny Chinatown is only a few blocks long. It’s a Cantonese stronghold, serving traditional fare. I got a kick out of the Dutch names for dishes. We had a great dinner at the insanely popular Nam Kee.

dim sumchinatown

Lesson #7: Be patient. And, gracious

In comparing notes on the trip afterwards, my daughter and I both agreed on a few points.

  • We both felt caught between spending quality time with each other and, with our bfs.
  • We have to watch out for those mother/daughter hot buttons, which trigger old patterns of whining, blaming and guilting.

But my daughter’s right; Barcelona was better. By then, we’d gotten used to being around each other, sort of like a pack with a group dynamic, affectionately connected to each other.

For that, we all get an A+. If you have more tips, ideas or suggestions, please share them. Bring on the adventures! I’m ready for more.

Comments 7

  1. Wow great post! Very interesting how you all worked it out, having your daughter, her boyfriend and yours taking the trip is not only fun but safe too. Travelling is a very good thing to do as seeing other parts of the world and being in different surroundings can bring a new outlook on life. It can give you the drive should you need it, to want to improve yourself and see where you live isn’t “the entire world”.
    Did you know there are some people in their twenties (and older) that have never left Brooklyn or Manhattan?? I found it hard to believe that they never even left their own borough, that is until I met such a person who’s family back up his claim.
    The sad fact is there are more people like him today due to lack of a steady income or disinterest in leaving their surroundings. These people need to travel the most, they need to see there’s other places than where they live and as I mentioned they can have a better outlook of the world and what it has to offer.
    Anyhow, great post Betty I sincerely enjoyed it and lovely pictures of Amsterdam too! My cousin has been there many times as he’s an executive in a Wine company. He’s been to Germany, Hungary, Slovakia, Russia and the UK.

    1. Post

      Thank you, Walter. It feels awkward to write about my personal life on this level. Parenting with adult children opens up all sorts of complex issues! But I appreciate you pointing out the importance of travel. To share the experience with people I care about most is huge.

      Yeah, I know there are people who don’t get out much. As you point out, sometimes finances are the issue. So I’m glad to help out when I can. But New Yorkers also get very geocentric. When I lived in Manhattan, everything I needed had to be there, in a three-block radius. It makes for a narrow-minded lifestyle. It’s great that your cousin gets to travel and you get to hear about it!

  2. Treating your kids as independent adults means you will have a life long in depth relationship with them rather than a pro-forma one of obligatory holiday visits and superficial communication. I think you are transitioning at just the rate time of your daughter’s life too. A lot of parents really fail to even realize the need to make such changes – a need that exists even if the young people are not yet entirely independent financially or even out of the house yet. Our youngest adopted son still lives with us and I hope will go on doing so for a long time yet, constant ray of sunshine that he is, as are all his friends. However he is 24 and a grown man. I can make suggestions but I do not give orders and what goes on in his room is his own business. Result? We laugh a lot, a whole lot.

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      Toby, I hear you on everything you’re said here. If I had stayed home and not gone to Amsterdam, we would’ve stayed in our same pattern. I had no idea that my daughter found me “anxious!” But of course, the fact that I’m trying to manage everyone is NOT exactly chill. So thanks for the reinforcement. Happy for you, that you and your son are enjoying a home life together! That means a lot when they’re grown children.

  3. It may feel awkward for you to write about your personal life, but doing so makes me feel less awkward. I’m sure your readers feel the same way.

    You asked your daughter for a grade, and had to accept her perspective. This shows that she sees you as the adult she wants/expects you to see her as. Her conversation with you sounded like it was an encouraging one…and it makes me think that with future travels or double dates, you’ll get top marks:) Not to mention great bonding time.

    How nice of her to invite you, and how sweet of you to accept.

    My brother has a thing with my child where he asks him to rate his childhood, usually when they’re laughing themselves silly or enjoying a meal or watching a game together. My kid always has the same answer-a wide grin, a thumbs up, followed by “It’s going awesome.” I’m usually somewhere in the background, but I hear it. I smile. Inside, my heart is saying “Yes! Score!” I also feel relieved because, well, he could feel the opposite.

    One day he may not say awesome anymore. He may say I’m putting too much pressure on him or maybe not enough. He may feel frustrated with me, or who knows what. Teens go through things, and he’s bound to. I hope this post will make me listen to my future rating with an open heart…as long as it’s no less than a B:)

    Thanks again for sharing, Betty. I enjoyed the pics, too. Xoxo

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      Thanks for the encouragement, Skye! Reading about your son’s reactions to his own life is wonderful. How many kids can say that about their childhood? You’re doing a good job, Mommy!

  4. Pingback: Sixty is the new serenity | betty ming liu

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