Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Surviving The Summer Vacation

August 23, 2004

It's the time of the year for the family vacation. What shall we do? Where shall we go? Can we afford it? What is fun? Whose idea will prevail? Will it be a visit to the relatives, again?

Marital differences jump out. Vacations need to be negotiated so both marital partners get their needs met. Surviving this discussion proves you still have an intact marriage - at least for one more year.

Surviving the vacation isn't exactly easy either. Traveling with kids is no picnic. Toddlers are no fun. Being cooped up in a car is not their idea of fun. For older children, the close proximity is an invitation to fight and aggravate each other. But it is worth it. Here are some vacations we've tried.

The "Pack-up-the-family-and-see-the-sights" vacation: This allows workaholics to transfer all the tension and productivity they normally have for their work into a vacation filled with activities. The Guinness Book of Records should have an entry for the most sights seen during one day. "Sure, kids, this is Yellowstone. Too bad it's dark. But we've got to keep on schedule."

The freeway is transformed into the Indianapolis 500 with as few pit stops as possible.

While Dad is keeping track of how many miles can be covered in one day, the family has to fight for bathroom stops, meals and other necessities. This type of vacation has some redeeming value. At the end, you know you've been somewhere and done something.

Our son Trace reports on traveling with a French family. "Here we drive for two hours, spend three hours at one or two places, then settle in a hotel at about 4:00 p.m. Then we eat for what seems like an eternity. The food is GREAT, but I don't know if it's quite worth 40 euros a meal, and two hours for dinner." Definitely not American.

The "Stay-in-one-place-and-get-to-know-it" vacation. We experienced this one year when our engine threw a rod and we spent a week camping in Zion National Park in Utah with no vehicle while the engine was being replaced. If , either by design or accident, you try this kind of vacation, you discover the joys of relaxing and getting to know one place well. Not bad.

The "Stay-home-alone-while-the-rest-of-the family-visits-relatives" vacation. This isn't so bad for the first few days. Then the loneliness sets in. You are glad when the family returns. An empty house is a lonely house.

The separation has been good. You miss each other. The fallout is that you have learned to live your own schedule and meet your own needs first. This will soon be a subject of intense discussion.

"The "Go-visit-relatives" vacation or "Another-summer-at-the-lake" vacation. Inexpensive. Family bonding. Grandparents and grandchildren forming relationships. Tradition. Aunts and Uncles. Cousins.

Someone else does the cooking. Not enough people help clean up. This type of vacation can be good or bad depending on the length of the visit, presence or absence of unresolved parent/child issues, degree of compatibility between in-laws, and so forth. Also can be boring and repetitive. Family intrigue mounts with each passing year.

The "Go-somewhere-with-your-mate-with-no-kids" vacation." or "The "stuffed-to -the-gills, what-expensive-excursion-shall-we-take-today cruise" vacation. This type of vacation is one of my favorites. It is great but hard to organize and pull off. Long talks. Renewal. Romance. New adventures together. New bills to pay.

There are a few drawbacks such as guilt, worry, and indebtedness. Also indebtedness to saintly relatives or friends who are getting to know your kids too well.

The "Let's-go-out-in-the-woods-and-rough-it" vacation. This vacation tests your mettle. It can be great or it can be a disaster. Usually it is both. The conveniences of home are definitely not here. You get back to basics. You cope with adversity together. It will only take a few weeks for the assortment of mishaps, hardships, and misadventures to become humorous.

The "Stay-at-home" vacation. Sleep in late. Read for pleasure. Explore home town attractions. See some summer action films. There is time for watching videos, playing ball with the children, going to children’s games, keeping the garden going, and relaxing. It sounds good except the "Stay-at-home" vacation has about as much chance of success as working in a home office while watching preschoolers.

A real vacation. A vacation is doing the opposite of what you normally do. A vacation should be a break from routine, deadlines, schedules, responsibilities, goals and especially the clock. It should be a change of pace, a different rhythm, a different environment, a new experience.

A vacation can be a broadening and stimulating experience. New places and new experiences place our lives in a larger context. We find beauty. We marvel at nature and at the products of human creativity and endeavor.

Vacations are important. A vacation makes memories. Ask adults about their best memories of childhood. Family fun and family vacations are usually near the top of the list. A vacation is a tradition than helps define the family, build bonds and makes special memories.

Life is more than working hard, getting ahead, and being productive. We are not machines. Life is to be enjoyed. A vacation is one of the pleasures of life that counterbalances day-to-day strivings and anxieties.

No matter which vacation we choose, it is better than no vacation. Now that the summer is practically over, it is time to plan the next one. Maybe even a French vacation. Now that sounds different.