The waves are breaking outside my window as I write this. The kids are all napping in their beds, worn out from playing in the sand all morning. The rest of my family is off checking out a few shops and buying fresh fish to grill for our dinner tonight.
The peace and calm is tangible.
But what about when the peace is missing?
What about the times when the much needed prescription for rest, relaxation, and family fun is marred by grumpy attitudes and petty arguments?
It’s certainly happened to us before. It’s probably happened to you. Even though vacations are meant to bring families closer, the constant time together and break in routines for children can lead to problems that divide rather than unite.
I’m not suggesting that one argument ruins an entire trip to the beach or that a sour disposition overshadows a week of fun memories. But there are ways to prevent most of the problems from happening in the first place.
While we are not travel buffs and vacations are more of the exception than the norm for us at this time in our family’s life, I have learned a few helpful strategies for preserving peace while on vacation.
1. Be clear about your expectations. Before the trip.
This is probably one of the most important things I can do before I leave for vacation. And I’ve learned this one the hard way.
Imagine that your family has been planning a trip to the beach for six months. During those six months, every member of the family has been developing pictures of what this vacation has in store for them. Quiet mornings reading on the beach while the sun rises. Sand castles and shell collections. An entire day devoted to fishing. And so on.
In everyone’s mind the success of the vacation and their day-to-day happiness is, in part, determined by the fulfillment of their expectations. And we get so wrapped up in our own visions of how our slice of R & R will look that we forget that the rest of our family cannot read our minds.
Unless we are proactive and discuss our expectations before our trip, there is no way that everyone will be satisfied and it is inevitable that at least one person will be disappointed. Of course, discussing expectations doesn’t mean that everyone will get to do everything they want to do.
But it does mean two things:
First, we will all be going into the trip on the same page. All the cards are out on the table. My husband knows what I would like to take place. I know what he is hoping to do. And we both know what would make this trip especially fun for the kids.
Which leads me to the second thing that discussing expectations leads to: we will be able to realistically plan for certain things to take place. There is only so much time and money to devote to various activities during a vacation. Talk about what your expectations and figure out a way to make as much happen as possible.
2. Be intentional about sharing the responsibilities.
I have spoken to other moms of young children about this before. So I am pretty sure this is not just my experience.
Mothers are incredibly blessed with the gift of caring for our children and our homes. We serve our families, not perfectly, but faithfully everyday. Our day does not end at five, and Saturday and Sunday are not days off. (This is not a complaint, but merely a description of a common scenario).
Thus, vacations can often seem less than relaxed and carefree for moms with young children. A mother’s responsibilities themselves have not changed, only the locations in which they are now occurring has changed.
And sometimes changing the location actually makes the fulfillment of those responsibilities more difficult.
Personally, one of my goals on vacation is to get some time to recharge and rest. It can feel discouraging when the cooking, cleaning, and childcare keep me from experiencing some of the benefits of a vacation. I’ve learned from past experiences to be more intentional about sharing this opportunity for discouragement with my husband.
Before this trip, we talked about the tendency for mothers to be the default caregiver and how this tendency can translate into a less than vacation-y experience for moms. Through open communication, we discussed what it would look like for us to share the responsibilities so that we can both fully enjoy our trip.
3. Seek to serve instead of waiting for others to take care of you.
Thus far, I’ve encouraged you to consider expectations and to openly express them together as a family. Think about what you would like. Plan to make it happen. Work together to share the load.
I am not invalidating the importance of the first two lessons. I still hope for us all to have a good time, me included.
But one of the quickest ways to ensure that we all have a wonderful, peaceful vacation is to stop worrying about myself and start thinking of how I can bless my family.
If I am constantly thinking about when I am going to get my time to relax, fretting over the fact that something isn’t going the way I wanted, or catering to jealous thoughts about why others are having a better time than myself, then my heart will not be at peace and my family will feel the effects.
Let me share an example. My husband is an avid fly fisherman. He has been anticipating fly fishing in the ocean for months. A significant part of his vacation is going to be spent surf fishing or fly fishing from his kayak.
I can respond in two ways. I can respond in jealousy that he is getting all this personal time and I am not. Or I can seek to serve him by making opportunities available to enjoy his leisure, and by not making him feel guilty for enjoying his recreation of choice.
One response breeds discontentment and strife, making nobody happy. The other is a response of love that preserves the peace in the family.
I think the reverse of the saying “if mom isn’t happy, then no one is happy” applies here. Let’s take joy in loving others, modeling cheerfulness, and watch as our spouses and children reap the rewards of a happy, contented wife and mother while on vacation, (and everyday).