The brochures make it all look so fun and easy. A family sits cozily around a campfire toasting marshmallows. Another picture shows a dad and kids frolicking in the waves at a beach. Still another shows kids laughing and smiling on a theme park ride while parents smilingly wave. Ah. summer vacation. Everyone is relaxed and enjoying themselves.
Don't believe it. That idea of the way it's 'sposed to be can be a set-up for disappointment. Parents can end up feeling like failures if they don't create a vacation that matches that ideal. Kids can feel cheated and pour on the guilt if they feel their parents let them down. The fact is that a family doesn't change just because the week is called vacation. Everyone brings themselves along for the ride. Here are some tips for making vacations work:
Be realistic: Make plans that fit with the stage of the blending of your family. If all the kids really get along and if your kids and your partner's kids respect both of you as parents, a family vacation may work out just fine. But if you are newly blended and still have work to do around making positive relationships and determining each of your roles in the kids' lives, better to take day trips. The forced intimacy of long car rides or shared hotel rooms can put too much pressure on fragile new relationships.
Consult with each other: Make sure you and your partner have a similar idea of what "vacation" means before you even talk to the kids about it. Who will make arrangements? How much will you spend? Who will be in charge of what? What will you do if the kids get cranky or fight? If you find you can't cooperate in the planning, chances are you won't be able to cooperate while you are on the road and without your usual supports. Stick with day trips until your relationship is more developed.
Consult with the kids: Family vacations are a way to get to know our kids better and to develop closeness. Let go of at least some of your agenda and find out what they want to do. Be flexible and make compromises so everyone gets at least some of what they want some of the time. This may mean dividing up the group now and then so kids get some alone time with their own parent. It may mean sending one parent off with the older kids while the other parent caters to the interests of the younger ones. A family vacation doesn't have to mean enforced togetherness the whole time.
Focus on the Family: Don't think of a family vacation as a time for the adults to have much couple time. Vacations away from home mean less privacy and more active involvement with the kids for most of every day. Focus on the kids' needs during the family vacation. Then find a sitter or a family member who is willing to take care of the gang so you and your partner can have at least a weekend getaway to relax and reconnect.