Here’s a hard lesson I had to learn when I first became a parent: “Vacation” is not synonymous with “relaxation.” If you’re looking for a low-stress, relaxing vacation, you’re not going to find it if you’re traveling with young kids. Vacations can actually be more anxiety-provoking than routine weeks at home. When we’re away from home, we don’t have control over every minute of our day. We can’t predict what tomorrow will bring, and therefore can’t prepare for it.
When patients are anticipating family vacations with their kids, I often spend time helping them “cope ahead” for what might be a stressful experience. Here are three ways to cope ahead and ensure you’re effectively managing vacation stress:
- Establish a routine and plan ahead when you can. Whenever possible, create a routine for yourself, even if it is an artificial one. It doesn’t have to be an hour-by-hour schedule, but it should provide you with enough structure so that you feel like you have a plan for the next day. Thanks to the internet, you often can plan out your meals and destinations ahead of time.
- Carve out as much time for yourself as you can. Can you schedule some daily “me time” into your trip? Even if it’s a quick walk alone outside or trip to see a great summer movie, it will help rejuvenate you (in time to deal with the next family squabble).
- Be willing to take a vacation from control. It may help to think of your summer vacation as a “vacation from control.” It is very easy to control every aspect of your life (and your partner’s and kids’ lives) when you’re at home, on familiar turf, and everyone in your family is at work/school. But as soon as you leave home, daily activities, meals, and bedtimes become harder to negotiate. Don’t spend your time agonizing over your lack of productivity, or your kids’ late bedtimes and regular sugar overdoses. Instead, accept your circumstances, remembering that you will be returning to your regularly scheduled life soon enough!
Please share your experiences with family vacations (good, bad, or otherwise) in the “comments” section below!