Believe it or not…
I actually have a lot of personal tips on staying sane on a family vacation.
Want my #1 for families with young children?
Don’t sleep all four of you in a two-person tent.
(unless you enjoy the heat and weight of a 60-pound child on you, with mosquitoes buzzing around and sand up your…sleeping bag)
But then again, my husband loved it. To “stay sane,” he’d say, you have to go!
The moral of the story? Different strokes for different folks. What keeps you sane and happy?
Try as I might though, I have never felt entirely sane on a family vacation. No parent does! Some parents even question whether you should even use the word “vacation” when traveling with young children.
The work of parenting just never ends!
Interestingly enough though, it’s not the big things that cause a family to break down. A fall, a robbery, an accident – those things are typically handled with the required maturity.
But try agreeing on a radio station, tolerating another dispute over the plumpest chicken leg, or losing the hairbrush again…Now THAT is something to make any member lose it completely — from the 2-year-old to the 62-year-old.
My Number One Tip For Staying Sane
Because it is not going to be realistically possible for all family members to act calm and mature throughout the entire vacation, here is my #1 tip to help you manage this reality:
Take turns losing it.
That’s right, tensions will rise, people will get tired, hungry, and annoyed. Children are naturally good at taking turns melting down; getting the whole family to operate this way takes work.
Taking turns losing it means that parents and children agree, tacitly or through discussion, that when one family member seems to be having difficulty, the other family members will not judge, criticize, punish, or
otherwise act negatively to that person. Instead, they will ignore the agitation. And they will try to be nice, or help solve a problem, or be otherwise helpful and comforting.
Here’s How You Do It
Mom (who got no sleep because she was being slept on by a 60-pound child) can’t find the hairbrush. She starts grumbling, but nobody listens, so then she starts to raise her voice: “If we can’t put things where they belong,
I’m not going to spend my entire [there-may-be-a-curse-word-in-here] vacation searching for something. WHO TOOK THE [DEFINITE CURSE-WORD HERE] HAIRBRUSH?”
Dad says, “Chill out! It’s just a brush.”
This response could make Mom realize she’s foolish. Unless she has a fabulous sense of humor that can survive anything, feeling foolish will probably do little to improve her mood. To truly let her take her turn losing it,
Dad should say, “We need to start putting things away better. Kids – look for that brush, now! Mom, let me get you another cup of coffee.”
Dad discovers that the GPS has put him in an endless loop, and he has no clue where they are or how to get to where they’re going. He shouts, “Kids! Quiet!”
Mom does not roll her eyes and say, “Oh, there you go again. This isn’t the end of the world, just pull into that gas station and get the directions, Geez.”
Again, this could make Dad feel foolish. Instead, Mom should allow Dad to take his turn losing it, instead of being what Johnny Cash would call “a big-mouthed woman.”
She should tell the kids: “Shhhhh, Dad is having trouble concentrating.”
Little Sally’s Popsicle has broken, and she insists that you walk another two miles to replace it.
You are tired. There is just no way this is going to happen.
If you want to let Sally take her turn losing it, don’t say, “Sally, I’ve gotten you everything you wanted this week, for once, just once, you are going to have to deal with not getting every little thing you want.”
This is going to make her cry much harder. Not only does she have no Popsicle now, but Mommy is mad at her too. Now she’s really going to start wailing.
Instead, Mom should allow Sally to take her turn losing it and say, “Sally, I am so sorry I can’t walk two miles to get you another Popsicle right now. But I will make it up to you, trust me.”
Sally may cry a little more, but just allow her to her take her turn while you rest in your chair, trying to recover from not having slept, and welcome her into your lap if necessary.
Why You Should Take Turns Losing It
Taking turns and allowing each member to be comfortably grumpy, disgruntled, agitated, upset, or angry is an excellent way for a family to manage the inevitable:
it is entirely impossible to have a vacation free of tension, and no family member can consistently maintain that tension with complete maturity and calm.
Taking turns sounds like it could be easy, but sometimes it isn’t because tension is contagious. Prepare yourself beforehand not to “catch” the tension so that you can better care for the person who is hijacked, and train your family to do the same.
And by the way, taking turns is not always a fair game. Some family members may lose it regularly and consistently, while others can stay regulated all throughout the trip. Taking turns is not a counting game, it’s a way of getting out of each other’s way to recover faster.
The Deep Benefits of Taking Turns
When you can learn, as a family, to take turns losing it, your vacation will not only be fun and interesting, but it will also create unforgettable feelings of emotional safety and contentedness, and sometimes, deep healing too.
So that’s my tip: Discuss beforehand, taking turns being there for each other. Learn to tolerate agitation with as much kindness and forgiveness as possible. This is what will make your family vacation the best one you will have ever had.