The family vacation is one that is often hyped up. American families have less time together today than ever before. People save money and time to plan for a spectacular week when they will be together having fun, sharing experiences, and reconnecting. The average American only gets 2-3 weeks’ vacation a year and that doesn’t increase because someone becomes a parent. With time being such a valuable commodity, expectations for vacation can be high and disappointments can be higher. Parents visit me upon returning from vacation and can’t wait to vent about what went wrong and how their partner is responsible. The range of topics varies from disagreements about parenting styles, to how much down time was available, to how much time was spend with extended families and friends. Vacations that are not well planned with extensive communication between parents in advance can be a set up for disaster. Before a vacation I often listen to parents say, “we’ll just be glad to get time away together” and I believe at the time their sentiments are authentic, but there tends to be some denial about much work and thought a successful family vacation really requires. Here are some easy ways to make things go as smoothly as parents hope on their annual family a vacation.
• Be realistic about expectations. One vacation is not going to fit everyone’s needs at all times. Parents should expect a certain amount of complaining from kids while sight-seeing, especially if kids are younger than teenagers—and older kids may not want to go to the zoo or playground. Remember that if parents minimize their reactions to complaints, kids are less likely to complain.
• Plan an agenda that meets each family member’s needs some of the time. Traveling with teens and tweens can be overwhelming if parents try to placate every person’s needs at all times. Parents should be flexible with plans and allow everyone to participate in some aspects of the decision making.
• Budget in advance. Having a planned budget avoids being financially stressed out during vacation time. Plan for extra expenditures of 10 to 20 percent of the budget, just to be safe.
• Expect the unexpected. Parents’ reactions to their own disappointments throughout vacation can set the tone for others. Maybe the hotel isn’t what was expected or the food at the all-inclusive resort is less than optimal; parents and families need to learn to enjoy their imperfect getaway, and use their sense of humor, to rally through annoyances!
• Co-parent effectively. Effective co-parenting can mean the difference between fighting and fun for everyone. Partner together in advance and make a pact to support each other. Maybe mom wants a night with her novel or dad wants a round of golf. Parents can model teamwork and get their individual needs met.
• On multi- family vacations be prepared for differences in parenting styles. What happens when two well-intentioned families get together for a fun vacation and the parenting rules in each family are worlds apart? The best strategy is for parents to talk with their children beforehand and let them know that there may be differences in rules and management styles.
• On blended family vacations be aware of particular concerns. Spending time with stepchildren during vacation can seem like a potential battle ground, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Attempt to look at this as an opportunity to spend time together and getting to know each other.
• The annual family vacation comes with much anticipation, although mishaps do happen. Maybe the weather is bad. Maybe the kids complain about being away from their friends. Maybe the car breaks down. A typical family vacation, much like life, has its up and downs. Parents that hope for the best time ever, and are able roll with the reality, teach their children a great life lesson; how one reacts to life’s disappointments matters more than even being on a vacation.
Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parenting coach in the greater Boston area. Follow her blog at www.drkateroberts.com