Vacation Family Therapy
Togetherness is The Best Medicine
By Dorothy Shirk
Some of my happiest memories of growing up in Pennsylvania with my family were the road trips in the station wagon, complete with roadside picnics on the turnpike with baloney sandwiches that were soggy from our homegrown tomatoes.
There we were, six kids stuck side by side for hours, entertaining each other, annoying each other, telling stories and playing games. Our vacations took us to the Chesapeake Bay, the Jersey Shore, New York City and the occasional drive west to visit relatives and friends. We didn’t have money to spend on vacations to Disney World or the Grand Canyon, but we were together having fun, and that’s what mattered.
Families need time together to nurture and enjoy each other. Our days at home are filled with rushing to get to things like practices, games, recitals, competitions, work and church. Taking a vacation forces families to slow down, relax and forget daily demands and stresses. It’s not the final destination that matters, but the journey shared together and the happy memories that follow.
I traveled with my daughters to Europe when they were nine and eleven-years-old, and while we have lots of great memories of Paris, the Swiss Alps and all those “weird” accents, my fondest memory is that my parents were along to experience it all with us! When we went to London five years later, our greatest memories include sharing the experiences with my brothers and their families. We talk about our trips at family reunions and relive the moments with laughter and rich experience, creating stronger family bonds.
The Preplan Game Plan
The closeness and bonding that comes with a vacation begins with the pre-travel excitement and enthusiasm. Planning the trip takes communication among the family members and can be a much-needed break in a stressful day. It provides an excuse or reason to rekindle and reestablish relationships that at times get buried under daily routines. Keep in mind that when planning a family vacation, each person going on the trip needs to have a say in where they want to go and what they want to see. This discussion leads to awareness of individual likes and dislikes. There is great benefit in participating in activities of interest to another family member.
Embrace The Fun
On vacations we tend to become relaxed, joke, play and laugh more. Families need a bit of silliness and laughter in their lives. Home is often the place for proper behavior and formality as we teach responsibility and demand respect. While it’s important to have goals and work hard to achieve them, without periods of rest and relaxation, we are less able to appreciate the benefits of all of our work. It’s wonderful when during a tough work day we can think back and laugh about the time Johnny walked into the ladies room in a restaurant in Italy because he couldn’t read the sign on the door!
Vacations provide the opportunity to spend time together in a way that cannot be done at home. I cherish the weekend trips with my sisters because in a new environment and destination, I become an equal to them instead of the baby sister with that role to play. On some occasions, I’m actually the expert and they listen to me! I like to think that when we get home they have a new appreciation for me, or at least think of me in a different light. These kinds of shared experiences with loved ones keep relationships strong and help us to enjoy the good times at home more completely. And, we are more inclined to help each other through the stress of the hard times if we have shared experiences.
The essence of family travel lies in bonding, sharing and having fun as an amazing team of adventurous souls. Experiences, not possessions, have a much greater influence on happiness anyway. Vacations that promote everyone doing their own thing negate the purpose of taking a family vacation! You end up spending the trip in separate activities, without any increased time together, without doing anything that you might not like. There is inherent value in just being together. It’s important not to demand things from family members, or require that they like certain activities. Also, be prepared to change things around if they’re not working; most of the best parts of vacations are the happy coincidences.
So, focus on togetherness when taking a family vacation. Remember that every activity or restaurant choice won’t be to your liking, but keep an open mind and learn to appreciate your differences. You may be surprised at the positive effect all that togetherness will have on the rest of your life!