Setting Family Expectations for Vacations

Life Balance

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Setting Family Expectations for Vacations

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Recently I was telling a friend about the long driving vacations my family took when I was a kid. We went all over the place: Florida, New Orleans, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Vancouver Island, Nova Scotia, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan . . . you name it.

My friend -- who has young children -- expressed surprise that my sister and I didn't fight throughout the thousands of miles in the car. I clarified that it wasn't all harmony and light between the two of us, but I also explained that my father had been a youth minister for many years. During that time, he and my mother racked up lots of experience in both making things fun for kids and gently but very clearly enforcing boundaries and expectations.

In this post, I'm going to suggest a few ways that you can achieve the same things on your family vacation, whether you're headed to Hawaii or to the state park down the road.

What Do We Value?

Family VacationsMy parents did a good job of letting my sister and me know what our vacations would be about, and how those trips fit into the bigger scheme of things in our family. For the most part, they did it implicitly, taking it for granted that our time together meant . . .

  • Having fun together by telling stories, singing songs, playing games, and sharing inside jokes.
  • Seeing new things, including some of the most beautiful landscapes you can imagine.
  • Trying new experiences, whether that meant eating lobster in Maine, rafting white water in North Carolina, riding a ferry from Washington State to British Columbia, or encountering a moose at close range on an island in Lake Superior.
  • Building memories that we could share for years to come.

The way my parents talked about our vacations -- ones we had already taken or the next one we were planning -- reminded us that our time together brought all of these good things with it. I think that helped a lot when my sister and I were sitting in a hot back seat driving across hundreds of miles of the Arizona desert.

How Do We Talk to Each Other?

Sometimes, Mom and Dad had to make their expectations more explicit. Kids will be kids, and they're sure to disagree at some point, even if they're more or less on board with the family philosophy. When my sister and I started to argue, my parents would reinforce a few key ideas:

  • We can always be polite with each other -- and in fact there's a clear expectation that we will be polite rather than aggressive.
  • We can ask for things rather than demanding them. Though my parents didn't use these particular words, they conveyed the wisdom of the old saying "You draw more flies with honey than vinegar."
  • When negotiating disputes, Mom and Dad have the last word. Not because the kids don't deserve to be heard, but because it's irresponsible to let one child dictate how things are going to be for the whole family.
  • We can find ways to get along -- without fighting. My parents were clear-eyed about this: sometimes, the best thing to do with the teenager is to have her listen to her music and not need to interact with anybody. That can't be all the time, but it's acceptable as an alternative to yelling and hitting. Meanwhile, little brother can read a comic book or look out the window for a little while . . . so long as he leaves his sister alone.

You know, looking back on it, I seldom thought of my parents as "strict." They just had a clear idea of what was acceptable or not, and they conveyed it lovingly but firmly. Kids need boundaries, and my sister and I gladly went along with the game plan because everybody was clear on what was expected and what we were all getting out of it.

What's Our Goal?

As you think about family vacations -- and, for that matter, anything else that involves the whole family -- make it clear to your kids that the goal is NOT to:

  • Spend lots of money.
  • Come back with lots of souvenirs.
  • Impress anybody else.
  • Make the kids suffer through some artificial family "togetherness" routine.

The important thing, I think, is to make togetherness real. Even if the personalities in your family don't always mesh well, you can probably find some creative way of getting along and building happy memories together. In fact, starting out with the mindset that such an outcome is possible may be the real key. If you believe that a family vacation can be a winner for all members of the family and you convey that message clearly, you've already set yourself up for success.

Tell me, how do you make your family vacations a success?

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Tim WalkerTim Walker

Tim is a writer, marketer, and social media pro living in Austin. He joined CareOne's blogging team as a contributing writer for the Life Balance blog in 2009. As a blogger who has personally overcome debt challenges, he draws from his own experience to provide tips on living a balanced life and keeping fit. You can read more of his thoughts (on fitness and everything else) at his personal blog, What I've Learned So Far. Compensated Blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services.

Follow Tim on Twitter; @Twalk or follow us by clicking here!

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  • Great perspective. Thanks for the reminders of what is important.

  • So even though I liked her post, I'm going to suggest five reasons you should do your Christmas shopping early.

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