by Kerry Hart
Family vacations can be difficult to navigate, and the what-if scenarios can become more anxiety-inducing than navigating the crowds at the Magic Kingdom. What if the kids do not find much to hold their interest? What if the older kids do not want to put up with yet another children’s activity center? What if we all just can’t get along? Stop the worrying portion of this vacation and get to the planning portion. A 2013 survey conducted by Kelton Research Firm found parents learn 97 percent more about their children’s lives when on vacation than they do during the typical day-to-day. Whatever it is you choose to do, you will be spending quality time with your children, getting to know who they are, who they want to be, and strengthening the family bond.
Make things easier for yourself ahead of time by making lists for what to pack or what you might like to do. If you remove the last minute guess work, you can enjoy more time with your family. Some locations provide childcare or a camp program so you can spend time with your partner, or even on your own! The local children’s museum may seem easier to deal with if you know you’ll be enjoying a couples massage the next day. Select only a couple activities per day and be flexible. Know that members of your family may want to rest instead of frequenting back-to-back museums.
“Whatever your self care looks like, make sure you get some in so you do not fall into the trap of needing a vacation after your vacation!”
Some travelers in your party may crave an “educational” vacation. While I applaud you for expanding your children’s mind, let us just take a step back and think about what your children will enjoy. You will not have fun if arguing or moaning and groaning is taking place. If needed, promise a visit to the local water park, or a major league baseball game after hitting Colonial Williamsburg. If your kids enjoy the educational portion of the trip, even better! Be sure to include rewards for good behavior throughout the trip by including activities that will peak their interests.
Know what each member of the family would like to do. Once a location is selected, start brainstorming. Get the family together and start googling your selected location to collect ideas for possible activities on your trip. Have an overwhelming amount of children? No problem. Use this as an opportunity to share one-on-one time with the little nuggets and get to know their likes and dislikes as they make their way through the
years. Observing all suggestions will make this a tradition even as the kids grow into adults.
Everyone will have an opinion on where and what they want to eat. Have a few ideas in your back pocket going into the trip, but also allow yourself to experience the local flavor. Picking restaurants by which types of food your kids will eat will also spare you difficulty. Parents who remarkably have non-picky eaters, go ahead and skip this paragraph; but parents of picky eaters who find themselves eating the same two or three things every week against their will, find a happy balance. For example, visiting the Italian restaurant you saw earlier may be a breeze if they serve delicious pizza for the kids. Get creative to make sure everyone gets a vote, but be sure to enjoy local eats!
Unable to afford that Disney cruise this year? No problem. The same rules apply to a family staycation. Take time off work to be with your kids; even if it is just a day, you can learn so much about your children while pursuing new activities on leisure time. Act like a tourist in your own city. Go to a museum, aquarium, or zoo that you might have lived next to for years and never thought to go into. Plan movie nights, game nights, and softball tournaments to spend quality time with the family. Throw a dinner party and take the morning and afternoon to prepare. Everyone can get involved!
Above all, be sure to enjoy yourself on this family vacation. Set aside time for yourself and your various family members to recharge. Whatever your self-care looks like, make sure you get some in so you do not fall into the trap of needing a vacation after your vacation! Depart for the day (or days) with a positive mindset and you will walk away with memories to cherish for years to come.
Kerry Hart, LLMFT is a couple and family therapist in private practice. She is located in both East Lansing and Grand Rapids. www.kerryhartcounseling.com