This is a response to this article that got so many likes and shares on social media. Parents were posting this article left and right. “We just went on a TRIP!” As I’ve said before, it is easy to point out mistakes and make complaints; it’s hard to actually solve problems.
My family just returned from a fairly significant family vacation. We went to a beach village about an hour from where we live. There’s nothing to do there except go to the beach with your family, which is precisely the reason we chose the place. Our whole family went — me, my wife, and our three kids (6 years, 3 years, and 3 months old).
Whether we had spent the day on the rocky beach in the village, or on the sandy beach about half a mile away, our children told us each day was the most fun day ever. We ordered pizza every night from the local pizza restaurant, and spent our evenings watching the water from the balcony of our rented apartment. Our family needed this, and I hope we can make it a yearly tradition.
Your family has a culture.
I have written a fair amount on culture and communities in this blog. I believe every family has a family “culture”. Some families ignore it, others are unaware of it, but it exists regardless of members’ ambivalence. And the culture of the family unit is incredibly influential.
Culture is a set of traditions, beliefs, and obligations that gives a group of people meaning and purpose. It’s the things that bind a group together and make it “stick”. Vacations and trips are part of the ingredients of the family culture because they create shared memories. On every vacation, there are things that are done together, which the entire group remembers together, and every member plays a role. Groups that have few shared memories have trouble establishing a good culture; shared memories make a group more important to its members.
Creating a good culture is your job as a parent.
First, let me say that I get it. Changing dirty diapers gets old. Wiping crusty noses and bottoms is not fun. And, when all of this is multiplied over 2 or 3 (or more) children, it’s easy to wonder if you’ll ever do anything else. Spending the days cleaning up messes and cooking dinners takes a toll on your attitude. It makes us dissatisfied, crabby, and unhappy.
Vacations can’t solve all of a family’s problems. But they can be part of the solution. They can break up monotony and infuse some positivity back into the culture of the family. If they are done right, they can keep us from breaking down and being so dissatisfied. And let’s face it — nobody wants to live with crabby, dissatisfied people.
Making fun of the antidote doesn’t help anybody.
In spite of the claim made in the article’s title, it was not helpful. It’s easy to make fun of stuff. I can make fun of our vacation right now. But making fun of it would discount all the progress that was made in those 5 days. And I don’t believe it does any good to tell parents that their only discretionary trip of the year with their family was not a vacation.
Choose your own adventure.
Ok, maybe the M.Blazoned article was helpful, albeit indirectly: by describing situations where families are driving for hours, waiting in lines, and battling bad attitudes, it implies that a lot of us parents might be putting our kids in situations where they can’t succeed. Think about it: if you go to Sea World, you’re asking your whole family to walk around all day in the hot sun together, wait in long lines, sit and watch presentations, and not get lost, all while you fork out lots of money. Many adults fail to have a good attitude in such situations. So why do we expect our children to behave any differently than they do?
Less can be more.
I personally wonder about the benefit of investing lots of money and time to take young children to visit attractions that they won’t remember. I realize that we want to do cool things, but it’s just something to think about: when it comes to choosing what attractions to visit on vacation, are we choosing the things that will allow us the best chance at having good, refreshing quality time with our loved ones? Is going to a theme park a good way to play with your kids? Maybe it is. But maybe — just maybe — we’d find that if we were content to do less, we’d end up with a lot more.
So what do we actually need to do?
I don’t know what you need to do, but I know what I did. Here are a few things that we did this year.
1. Minimize travel time.
Nobody wants to be in the car with small kids for hours and hours. So don’t do it. I know how it goes — you think about all the options and instinctively want to go to the best beach, the best theme park, etc. But kids are not likely to appreciate the extra time spent in transit. And, if you are able to have fun together at a closer location, no one is going to asking, “why didn’t we drive further?” So, try to stay close.
2. Go where there’s nothing to do.
This point is ironic — if you’re going to Sea World, Busch Gardens, or Disney-anything, you’re in danger of turning your vacation into a trip, and a not very good one at that. Don’t do it! You will probably not have that much fun! And you will not create the shared memories you want to have.
It will be hot, and you will stand in line for an eternity with your 6-year-old. Is that how you want to spend your “vacation”?
3. Keep some of your normal schedule.
Make the kids take naps. Oh, make them take naps. MAKE THEM TAKE NAPS!
You need a break in the middle of the day, and they do too. If they usually take naps in the afternoon, don’t discontinue this habit. They won’t be agreeable in a strange location if they are constantly tired.
4. Have fun with your family.
We did drive by one town, on our way down the coast, that had everything you could want to do — tennis courts, movie theatre, shops, restaurants, etc. Meanwhile, the place where we ended up didn’t even have an ATM! I realize that such a place might not be for everyone, but it is worthwhile to consider whether the range of activities you do is giving you more or less time to actually have fun with your family.
That’s about it. Go out there and make your next trip into a family vacation.