This article is about vacations in general. Modify to suit the holidays. It applies even moreso.
It's that time of year again: Time for the family vacation. It's a good time to rethink some things like perfectionism, expectations, and the meaning of the word "vacation."
First of all, we call it a "vacation," but if you're the parent, it isn't going to be one. Maybe I was slow, but it took me quite a while to figure out that I, the parent (and a single-parent at that), was going to work even harder on a vacation than at home, and that it wouldn't be a relaxing time for me. After all, I was taking the boys to new places where they would be full of new ideas, and it always required more supervision than at home. As soon as we hit the beach, outrageous demands began. One ran one way, the other another. Being in a new place, they weren't sure what the rules were, and they had to be re-established. Being around new things, they weren't always as cautious as they should be, and I had to be vigilant. They got sick, got fishing hooks in their thumbs, stepped on man-o-wars, the rental car got a flat, the resort room's air conditioning broke and we had to pack up and change rooms, and more than once someone was throwing up all night long. While we always had a wonderful time, and I always returned happy (and of course the kids did), I often returned more tired than when I'd left!
I began to name these "The Kids' Vacations," just so I kept my expectations in line with reality, and to plan vacation-vacations for myself - getaways where I could relax in ways I needed to. The Kids' Vacations were for having fun as a family! And kids don't need a "vacation." They're always high energy and on-the-go, yes?
Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan and take the family vacation that can keep you from unrealistic expectations which will erode your experience:
1.Kids are likely to become more boisterous on a vacation, because of all the new fun things. New experiences and new situations will present things they haven't encountered before, so you have to be on guard about their safety on a constant basis. Try and GO rested; don't plan on COMING HOME rested.
2.Think of it as a fun adventure for the family where you get to know one another better and spend time together under new circumstances. Then whatever happens will fall in line.
3.There are more options all the time where childcare is also available. Many resorts and cruise lines offer programs for children and teens that provide great activities, supervision, and a chance for them to make new friends, while giving you some adult time to yourself. Consider this option.
4.Consider bringing along a mother's helper, or older niece or nephew, or willing grandmother to help with the children.
5.Because it's all new, anticipate some irregularities, and relax into the situation. It's typical when we get stressed to tighten up and become rigid and this only makes things worse. Use your emotional intelligence to be flexible and creative. If your child has never been fishing before, or never been to a bit-city museum, you can't anticipate all the things they can go wrong, so don't be surprised if they do. It's part of new learning experiences. If they've never participated in formal night on a cruise, their table manners may not be quite in line. Anticipate what you can. Deal with what happens.
6.If you intend to have a great time together, don't let anything get in your way. There's no reason why a visit to the ER should "ruin your vacation," any more than a few tantrums, some embarrassing table manners, a flat tire, or missed plan connections should. Your experience of your vacation is in your own hands.
7.Plan ahead for the predictable - high spirits, moments of boredom, and fights with siblings. You've dealt with these at home, and they will accompany you on your trip. Think of ways to deal with these under new circumstances - in the car, plane, resort, tourist sights, and be prepared with the materials you need. A kit with magic markers, some ear phones, a journal or a good book to read can make the difference.
8.Anticipate testing of the limits. It will only throw you if it comes as a surprise. Children do this in any new situation, and a vacation is full of them. Apply the same measures you do at home - make it clear where the boundaries are, be consistent, pleasant, and anticipate the best.
9.Understand that children will rev up for a vacation, not calm down. Some adults do this as well, of course. Some of us plan vacations where we can relax and rest; others plan mountain-climbing adventures, and barefoot sailing. Some of us plan both! Be mindful about what comes with the territory.
10.Allow times for children to work off their energy. Plan breaks during long car trips. Take them for a run on the beach before you go to the art museum. After the formal dinner with Aunt Betty, turn them loose in the courtyard to run around a bit.
11.Discuss expectations beforehand. Explain what you can, and what sort of behavior you expect in different circumstances. You can't cover everything, but you can cover a lot. One thing that's very important with smaller children is "coming when called." You can also buy those harnesses for errant toddlers, for their own safety and your peace of mind.
12.Be sure and provide safety equipment - car seats, restraints, life jackets and such. Bring along syrup of ipecac, epinephrine, and other things your physician may recommend for emergencies. Carry a first-aid kit with bandages, Neosporin and tweezers. The same sort of equipment you have at home. Because a vacation provides new situations, accidents can be more likely to occur.
Last but not least, process after each vacation. What did you plan well, what did you plan poorly? What worked and what didn't? What would you do again, and what would it be best to avoid? What would you do differently? Get the whole family involved in the discussion, so everyone becomes mindful.
And don't forget the most important thing: find out what everyone enjoyed the most. Be sure and go over the good times with the family, and make plans for more in the future.