Vacationing before kids meant lazy mornings, tropical cocktails by the pool, and dancing all night. Now your vacation goals revolve around naps, sunscreen squabbles, and wondering if room service can deliver dinner before the next meltdown. If your former self saw your boundless brood barreling down the patio, she'd probably switch chaise lounges. Not that you want to trade places, but let’s be honest, family vacations can be stressful.
Research shows that “most of the happiness gleaned from a vacation is dependent upon the stress level of the vacation.” This means that the more relaxed and satisfied you are on your trip, the longer you’ll enjoy that post-vacation high.
Anyone who has travelled with kids knows that a stress-free vacation is often easier said than done. By slowing down and consciously enjoying your getaway, you will maximize the potential for a fun and meaningful family vacation. Plus, you’ll increase the opportunities to create cherished memories with your loved ones. The goal is to savor your pleasurable experiences and increase your resilience in dealing with frustration, to create a wonderful trip for you and your little tykes.
Try these five emotional hacks to help you relax and recharge, and make the most of a family vacation.
1. Take care of yourself first. As the flight attendant explains during her safety demonstration, you need to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping the people around you. While on vacation, you need to apply this advice and take care of your needs first. Whether you recharge by getting lost in a stack of tabloids or unwinding at the spa with an oxygen mask facial, make sure to dedicate at least one hour per day to self-care activities. Ignore your mom guilt and give yourself permission to be a little selfish. It will give you time to build up your reserves to be more patient, accommodating, and prepared to deal with stressful family situations.
2. Be clear about your needs. No matter how magical the vacation appears, when it comes to your needs (and nerves), no one should be expected to read your mind. When your feathers get ruffled, count to 10, then ask yourself what is the real root of your aggravation. Maybe it’s not about the Lego minefield left on the floor, and more about you feeling triggered that your kids ignored your umpteenth request to clean up the room. Either way, it is not fair to expect that your family fulfills demands that they never knew existed, so be clear about your needs and expectations. The longer you wait to address them, the more room you leave for resentment to creep in and ruin your trip.
3. Set limits. A new locale does not mean hometown rules breeze out the window. Sure, bedtimes might get extended, but Island Time does not mean staying up all night. Kids thrive in structure, so set yourself up for success by setting appropriate limits. Establishing vacation rules at the beginning of the trip allows for clear and realistic expectations among the group. On Day 1, lay down the law, ask if everyone understands, collaborate on any additions, and establish enforceable consequences (i.e. don’t threaten to take away the beach if you don’t want to stay in the room during the punishment!).
4. Research a babysitter. An unofficial vacation commandment is thou must plan at least one Parents Night Out. A happy relationship is the bedrock of a happy family, so when you book your hotel, ask for referrals for a local babysitting service or see if your hotel offers any babysitting services. You and your partner deserve a night out, and the precious few hours away will kindle your romantic flames and send a dose of the love hormone (Oxytocin) coursing through your body. Those warm and fuzzy feelings will help heighten your vacation experience. Make the most of your night off by checking to see if the hotel is hosting any special events, like a fire eating demonstration or a tequila tasting.
5. Give in to that cocktail. If you can’t secure a sitter, you can still enjoy grownup time on family trips. A beachy cocktail is one of the perks of going on vacation, but how do you enjoy an end-of-the-day libation when your kids are asleep in their beds? Start by visiting the hotel bar before bedtime, and ask for your favorite adult beverage without ice. Then, store it in your minifridge until it’s chilled, and when your little ones have conked out, refresh it with some ice cubes. It is important that you carve out adult time where you can. You can use this time to reflect on your day, take an inventory of all the moments you felt grateful, and think about what you most appreciated about your family. Cataloguing these moments will allow you to have a more fulfilling trip and increase your happiness when you think about them after you return.
Lindsay Liben, LCSW, has a private therapy practice near Union Square, focusing on women’s issues including depression, anxiety, and life transitions. She believes that by helping her patients get in touch with their most authentic selves, they can make choices that set them up for personal and professional success. Learn more about Lindsay and her work on her website.
Image by Kyra Hesch-Bershaw.