About a year ago, I wrote a response to this article from the blogger M.Blazoned. Her article about family vacations got picked up by HuffPost, and subsequently got a lot of mileage from friends of mine who share my stage of life.
There is a difference between a vacation and a trip.
I remember a few people responding to me by saying that I had missed the point — M was only pointing out that there is a difference between a true “vacation” and a mere trip. Lest we get our hopes up needlessly, they said, in our stage of kids and minivans we ought not to expect too much from our summer excursions.
But I don’t think that was the point she actually made. Here’s what she said:
Wait. Is It Ever a Vacation with Kids?
I’m sorry to say, no. Unless you can pull off the hat trick of family trips. 1. Tropical resort. 2. All-Inclusive. 3. Kid program your kids will happily attend. It will give you moments that feel like a vacation, but, even still, you’re looking at a Vacation-Trip Hybrid at best.
Brushing aside the fact that M avoids clarity with her “no-unless-but…” retort, the claim is generally staked — your family trips will never be vacations. They will never give you the refreshment and rejuvenation that a vacation will give you. If you cannot manage to take your family to a wildly expensive destination that offers fantastical arrangements for families with small children, you are doomed to simply cart your family around each year, spilling mustard on your clothes and getting burned by the sun while you satiate your children’s wishes to see Mickey Mouse, ride a roller coaster, go to the beach, get the huge bouncy ball, or do whatever they just have to do right now.
The prognosis is that you’ll be a leaky faucet, constantly, until these moochers finally leave your house, some time in the next century.
Maybe the problem is not that we’re expecting too much from vacations, but that we’re expecting the wrong things from life
I want to posit that our real problem is one of unrealistic expectations of life in general, and that if we will reform our expectations to reflect reality, then we can find rejuvenation through fulfillment of purpose and experiences of closeness to the ones we love.
I don’t have the time to treat this topic fairly, but I will say that life is better, fuller, clearer when lived out of a passionate pursuit of purpose. And though your children should not be at the very center of that purpose, they play a clear and vital role. So, as you use up your vacation days (a precious resource), and go spend time with your spouse and children, there is some sense that you are fulfilling some of the purpose for which God put you on this earth.
If you have kids, you eventually get the idea in your head, clearer and clearer each day, that people you love — your spouse and your children — will live on after you are gone, and your time with them is ultimately limited.
Therefore, experiences of closeness are like fuel for your tank — they may not help you turn a profit at work, but they help you appreciate the people around you more, and they make you more thankful to God for graciously putting these people in your life. In other words, they bring you closer to a maxim of faithfulness and gratefulness in a way that other experiences cannot.
What if we realigned our vacation planning around these goals?
I believe M’s ultimate problem with “vacations” was in her expectations of life, in general. Vacations, in that economy, are essentially a time totally free of obligation, except for the obligation to fulfill one’s own material desires. If that’s part of your definition, then it’s no wonder you can’t have a vacation while you also have a young family!
We shouldn’t focus on those things, because that’s not what we’re supposed to get out of life anyway. We’re disappointed, not because we don’t get what we expect, but because we expect things that we can’t get.
Instead, I would contend that vacations are a time when we get to take a break from the work and obligations that drain us, and draw nearer to the sense of purpose and relational closeness that gives us the energy to face the things we encounter upon our return.
With that in mind, maybe we should ask the following question…
How can I plan a vacation, so that it will help me and the members of my family fulfill our purpose and grow closer as a family? Do we need the big bouncy ball in order to do this? …the roller coaster ride? …the hours in the car? Or, can we do something simpler that will better prepare us to come back and face our daily lives?
Think about it.