When we bought a tiny cottage on the marshlands many years ago, we did not know we would have kids and grandkids who would want to visit. We are delighted at the growth of our family and have spent many hours brainstorming how to create happy times for members of different ages and tastes.
My practice in clinical psychology has taught me that families who can communicate effectively are happier decade after decade. This is easier said than done but I have evolved simple skills to teach families how to discuss what concerns them. These skills help them enjoy each other on vacation but preparation is often needed in advance.
To my delight, some years ago I found a tiny sign hand painted at Weaver’s Market, the Amish fresh produce stop in Millville. It says, “The best place to be is together.” I loved the sign on first sight and hung it in a small bedroom at our beach home.
I still love the sign but realize that family members do not always find each other as ideal company on vacation. Next weekend we plan to host our nephew who arrives from Europe for a quick beach stay.
We also plan to host four adult kids, two granddaughters, and our two dogs. While we love hosting everyone, we know that getting along together requires both skill and goodwill.
Ideally, a family vacation means getting away, having fun and spending time with loved ones. To help this pattern surface, I put together five frequent family vacation problems. Let’s think of good coping mechanisms together.
- Money: It costs precious funds to do a family vacation and things are top price on our own island. Every theme park is designed to take us right into the snacks and gift shop. Setting a budget for transportation, lodging, food, and entertainment should allow a few splurges.
- Different fun for different folks: I teach interpersonal problem solving to many families and couples. The goal is to find a mutual solution for all involved, thus creating a win for all who attend and teach how individual differences can enrich our lives.
- Tight spaces can create conflict: Vacation rentals are expensive and often have tight quarters. Eventually tempers may flare when families are too close for too many days. Talking this through helps all remember often the best place is still to be together. If you have members of different generations vacationing together great family meals often go a long way to family pleasure.
- Review family expectations ahead of the vacation: It helps if kids know the rules they are expected to abide by. Behavior expectations need to be discussed, along with consequences for breaking the rules, long before you pack any suitcases.
- Create meals that all enjoy: Many years ago, I asked a granddaughter what she wanted for dinner. I might have known her answer would be “mac ‘n cheese.” Despite our proximity to great seafood, many vacationers prefer spaghetti and meatballs regardless of their vacation plans. Respectful consideration of the tastes of each member goes a long way to building family fun.
The couples and families I work with treasure their ability to practice skillful communication around vacation themes. Like working out at a gym, they are delighted to have invested time in “working in” by learning to settle conflicts peacefully. Is it worth the effort? What could be more valuable, indeed, “the best place to be is together.”
To consider: Whom do I want to be closer to at the end of this time together? How can I build that relationship during our time relaxing? Share a lobster? Go to a movie? Take a dive into a frothy ocean? Whatever you do, please remember what my little sign says. The best place to be really is together.
Find Dr. Judith Coche helping clients with mental health concerns at The Coche Center in Stone Harbor and Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Contact her through www.judithcoche.com.