Practically everyone is looking forward to a vacation this time of year. Sit back, close your eyes, begin to let images drift into your mind about the perfect getaway. What do you see? Maybe you’re escaping the heat for a dose of mountain cool air or sinking into soft sand with the latest beach read. Maybe you’re sleeping until noon or bonding with your family, enjoying a beer and a raucous round of cards. Ahhh, each picture ramps up those expectations of your personal version of relief from summer and the hectic life you live, right?
Or maybe you have just returned and are devastated, or at least disappointed, about the discrepancy between what was imagined and what occurred. It rained, the kids screamed. You didn’t get to sleep in. Diapers, baths, meals continued to bombard you, if you’re a parent. Or maybe the magnetism of old family patterns launched you into autopilot. Within minutes during my last visit to my mother’s, I was bickering with my sister about who was right. Didn’t matter what the issue, the habitual way to relate seemed to grab us both and slam us into history.
There seems no better time to examine expectations than when facing holidays–and vacations count. I think we can start by dropping the word “vacation” in connection to visits to family, or trips to Disney World with preschoolers. Maybe we need to ban the word entirely when small children are in tow. Whether you are a parent or not, think back to your little reverie from the first paragraph–were there pictures of children in that? Be honest. Hmmm, I thought not.
Let’s change our ever-powerful wording again, and call these what they are: family trips. Excursions like this can be fun. But they are not relief from a parent’s regular life.
Just as with other celebrations, sit down and examine what you really want to get out of any trip. Make a list. Make concrete plans to have at least some of that happen. A psychologist friend, when his children were small, set up a schedule with his wife. When the family was out of town, he and his wife took turns being on kid duty: 8 am to 2 pm and 2 pm until 8 pm. Whichever parent was on duty fed, clothed, comforted, and amused the offspring. The next day the shifts switched. In this manner, each parent got to sleep in, go snorkeling, or lay on the beach and read. Takes two active parents and some discipline to enact this, but it’s well worth it.
So lay out your expectations, examine them, and develop a realistic plan. And when you’re stuffing those suitcases, make sure to pack your perspective and your sense of humor. Both are essential to a satisfying trip.