It’s NOT just a trip! Choosing to believe you CAN take a vacation with your family.

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.

 

team Trousdale
 
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. 

Parenting is an opportunity to get out of God’s way. 

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love. Psalm 51:1

Got to love that face.
Got to love that face.

The gospel, if you accept it, is truly life-altering. It’s not a spiritual exercise. It’s not a mental experiment. And it’s not a political ideology. It’s a chance to be honest about yourself — like you’ve never been before — and be loved and accepted as a result.

Even as a “veteran” Christian, I still have significant problems with letting the gospel change my life. Just the other day was an example. My children were testing their limits; they were in rare form. As the day dragged on, I became more and more impatient with them. After my daughter’s entire dinner ended up on the floor — the last inconvenient development of the day — I reached the end of myself. Three children, all wanting their own way was just too much for me. I became prickly and sharp. They had spent the entire day disobeying and making everything so difficult — they did not deserve to do anything they wanted to do for the rest of the day.

There are no conspiracies

In my offended, angry state, I was disregarding several concepts that I have written about on this blog at length. The first is the idea that events in this world often have little to do with me. 

I think this is a gospel issue, and the more I accept the truth of the gospel, the more I will internalize this truth, and the way in which I react to my children will change. The idea comes from John 9, when Jesus told his disciples that the blind man’s blindness was not a result of his family’s sin — rather, the man was blind “so that the works of God could be revealed.” 

When my children disobey and disrespect me, I see it as a result of their sin, but when they continually so so I usually go a few steps further — I see it as a direct affront to me as their parent. It’s a conspiracy to deride everything I say and do as a figure of authority in their lives. They are shaking their fists at me.

You see, if this is true, then it opens up a long line of supposedly justifiable emotions inside of me. I have not only been disobeyed, I am also personally offended. I have been marginalized. I have been robbed of dignity. And what makes it worse is that two objects of my love have purposefully decided to do all this. They have conspired against me. Betrayal. Injustice. A little part of the world is against me, and exists to cause me pain.

Now that I’ve dissected my own thought processes, it’s hopefully easy to see how I am wrong. My children’s disobedience is not a part of some great conspiracy against me — it actually has little to do with me personally. Rather, it is a situation orchestrated so that the works of God may be revealed. Their actions are not directed at me — they are simply living the desires of their hearts. Just like me, they want to do only the things that bring them pleasure in this moment. But it’s not about me — it’s simply about them doing what they want to do. 

If their actions are not primarily against me, then all of the betrayal narrative I described above on my part is out of line. I am no longer justified in behaving as if I’ve been marginalized, betrayed, and conspired against. 

Instead, I get to take part in the works of God being revealed in their lives. Discipline cannot be an attempt to put them in their place or give them what they deserve. Instead, it’s a conversation, an object lesson, that will hopefully allow them not to see how they’ve angered me, but how God wants them to act differently. 

Getting in God’s way

Did you catch that? If my objective is to communicate to my kids how much they’ve angered me, then I obscure what God wants them to see. I will injure them if they walk away from me with the idea that life’s purpose is to please their dad. 

If we look at things with the end in mind, it puts our present actions into perspective very quickly. What am I trying to do, in raising my kids? If I am trying to participate in the production of well-adjusted, independent, mature adults, then the vast majority of what happens in our home has very little to do with me indeed.

If I am concerned with following God and seeing him work, then I ought to want to help them see him as well. They are in need of his mercy and grace, just like me. And if I see that as the root of their disobedience — not some plot to cause me pain — then I have a better shot at getting out of the way and letting them see the works that God wants to reveal in their lives. 

I Am A Rock, I Am An Island: On Living Vicariously

 

I remember a conversation I had with my father long, long ago. I had been talking to a coworker about marriage.  I was a single college student, I didn’t understand the first thing about being married. The man with whom I had worked the night before was probably 30, and had been married for several years.

“How long do you have to be married before you stop thinking of your wife like your friend, and she becomes more like a family member in your mind?” I had asked.

“When you’re married, your wife isn’t really like either of those,” the man said.

“She’s more like… An extension of yourself.”

“Sounds like a smart man,” said my dad.

I don’t know why I remember that random little conversation. Sometimes life doesn’t seem to adhere to any brand of reasoning whatsoever. But I find that I would agree with my coworker’s statement, one hundred percent. 

The Definition of Vicariousness 

I said in my last post that I live vicariously through my son. I wished I could have figured out another way to say what I meant then, because I could see later that it rubbed a few people the wrong way, and even though the words were technically correct, didn’t really communicate what I wanted to say. Making serious decisions because of some kind of vicarious desires sounds strange, and I recognize that. 

What I wanted to communicate was the idea that, in a very real way, my son’s experiences affect me, and my experiences affect him. Now, that’s the most obvious, shallow way to say it, but what I’m thinking actually  goes several steps deeper: my son’s experiences are my experiences, and mine are his. 

Now, this might sound weird, but you’ve got to hear me out. It is not true for one hundred percent of the things that happen in our lives, but, at six years of age, my son is still very, very closely tied to his parents. We have seen or heard about almost all of the things he has done, every day, for every year of his life. Every real decision about his life has been made by us — whether he can go for his first sleepover, where he’ll go to public school next year, what he’ll have for breakfast. As a child, he is unable get very far from us. 

Normally, when you make decisions, you bear the consequences. However, in parenting, you learn quickly that not you, but your child, is the primary bearer of the consequences for some of your decisions. Isn’t that strange? You still bear the consequences of your decisions, but indirectly through your child’s experience. 

Maybe you could call the consequences you experience the “secondary consequences” — I don’t know how psychologists think about these things. But one must admit, when you decide that your child can’t have any cake, you don’t have the experience of wanting cake and not getting any — but you experience that disappointment in a very, very real way through your child’s reaction. 

This is not just for parents 

Enough with the parenting examples. As I thought about this the other day, it occurred to me that most people end up living this way, if they have any sort of relationships with other people at all. Friends, the closer they become, go through experiences together. They make decisions about their lives, and those decisions influence others. The more serious the decision, the greater the influence. 

This is not in your imagination 

The dictionary defines vicarious as “experienced in the imagination through the feelings or actions of another person.” I would posit that anyone who genuinely cares about any other people that they are connected to, will experience the actions or feelings of others — not in the imagination, but in reality. 

Our actions and decisions have real consequences — for both us and for others to whom we are connected. You may think you can move to Germany, and do it for yourself and no one else. You may decide it doesn’t matter to you what others think of your decision. But that doesn’t mean you have not had some affect on the lives of others. Anyone close to you, anyone who cares about you will know — part of their world is going away, and they will no longer experience life in exactly the same way. Suddenly, without so much as walking a mile they are half a world away from a friend. 

Sometimes you can watch the dominoes fall after you make a decision. Whichever direction they take, you decision has spawned a series of other decisions by other people which are real. The experience that others have of your life is real — and while it should not handicap you, it should still be observed. We are not islands. We are connected to others. 

Now some may say that these friends of ours are not really experiencing our decisions — they are experiencing their own life as a result of our decisions. But even that seems like a concession for anyone of the more independent temperament. Our decisions then are not solely ours. If we can influence others by making seemingly independent decisions, then it must follow that our own decisions are the result of the decisions of others. Though we may claim independence, we are ourselves living out our lives in light of many experiences that were not our own. If we accept that we have the power to influence others, who can claim to be the originator of that influence? It is a chain of influence that goes back infinitely into the past, and continues on indefinitely. 

Maturity, then, seems to require that one come to terms with this stream of connection, while neither denying its existence nor drowning in its depth. As mature people, we have to learn to be proud of those connections that have made us stronger, and aware of those that have weakened us. We are not imprisoned by the debt we owe to others, but we are also not solely the result of our own decisions and experience. We are, in reality, living out the results of countless experiences of others, and at the same time influencing all the lives that we touch. This is not good or bad — it simply is. 

Obviously, some relationships are more influential than others: parents and siblings are perhaps our most foundational relationships, then many of us move to spouses, children, then best friends, acquaintances, godparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, coworkers, neighbors. But I cannot view this deep connection to others as a bad thing, something to be jettisoned for some mythical version of independence. 

I am not a rock. I am not an island. I never was, and never will be. And neither are you.