The mere thought of a week of summer vacation with the kiddos can bring a myriad of feelings: excitement, angst, anticipation, or even trepidation. The expectation of thrilling roller coaster rides and relaxing beaches gets mixed in with the dreaded car rides and sibling fighting. So what’s a parent to do? Here are some suggestions to make THIS year’s excursion the trip of your dreams.
1. The vacation starts when you lock the front door: My wife and children taught me this lesson, as I used to be the kind of dad who wanted to rush off intensely and not have any fun until we got to our destination. Instead, we took our time on our car rides, taking lots of breaks where we’d get out at rest stops and throw a football or Frisbee around, have a picnic, and decompress a bit. We had family meetings ahead of time to brainstorm fun activities and games to bring along in the car to make it fun and to allow the time to fly by. And of course we all took a trip to the store to buy everyone’s favorite snacks. Sunflower seeds and licorice were my favorites. This approach avoided crabby parents and sibling rivalry, and it made the ride part of the adventure.
2. Involve the kids in the planning: The more engaged your kids are in planning the vacation, the less whining and feet dragging you will encounter along the way. All kids want a voice in their everyday lives, and especially when it involves their entertainment. If you want to add in some historical sites or more adult-friendly stops, it helps if kids have had a say in the rest of the trip.
3. Don’t over-schedule the trip: Everyone’s everyday lives, parents and kids included, tend to be clogged with activities, with scant time left over for down time. On your vacation, allow lots of time to relax and go off track, following your interests as they unfold. Having less on the itinerary means you will all feel less rushed, resulting in more opportunities to unwind, be in the moment, and have fun.
4. Avoid becoming an ATM: Brainstorm ways your kids can earn money before the trip so that they can use their own cash to buy t-shirts and mementos. It can become annoying for parents to constantly hear “Can I have $20 to buy a shirt?” or for extra snacks or treats. Give them some cash at the start of the trip and let them figure out how to budget their money throughout the week.
5. Be 100 percent present: A dad told me one time that while he and his family were watching old videos of their vacations, he had very little memory of the events even though he was the one who was behind the camera. He had been so preoccupied with his growing business career when his children were growing up that he was never really present; he had missed out! Decide to not do work on the trip and keep electronic time to a minimum, if at all. Make agreements with everyone about how much time is okay to be on phones, video games, and Internet sites. Some families don’t even bring their gadgets on vacations because they want to leave home stresses behind and really connect with each other.
6. Handling sibling rivalry: Vacation time is NOT the ideal time to start working on dealing with your children’s squabbles. So begin today teaching them that: you are no longer going to take responsibility for their fights; your new role is teacher/mediator and therefore you don’t care who started it etc., you are only there to teach them how to figure problems out themselves; coach them on asking for what they want, listening to what the other side needs, and then creating win-win agreements that work for both parties. If they start fighting in the car, pull over, have them get out, and they are not allowed back in until they have peacefully figured out a solution. This will avoid a ton of potential headaches that can drain parents.
7. Do more with less: Often times it’s the unscripted, spontaneous moments that are the most memorable. On our first night camping out in Colorado one trip, I invited everyone to sit by the mountain stream and star gaze with me. The immediate reaction was that that sounded pretty lame and boring. I did it anyway. Slowly but surely, the kids and adults meandered down to find a spot along the riverbank, and we experienced one of the most beautiful skies I have ever seen. The kids were enamored with the shooting stars, and we even told a few stories as we lay there soaking in nature. Make sure your pace and mind-set is open and slow enough to allow for such moments.