The following post was written for my monthly column in my local paper, the Monroe Monitor, the day after we returned from two weeks in Hawaii...
I love summer.
I grew up on the beach in Southern California, splashing in the waves, digging in the sand, loving every minute of the season… Well, that is how I remember it. I also went to a lot of camps and on trips with my family. Looking back, it seems as if everyone was happier in the summer.
So it shouldn’t be any different now that I am a parent, should it?
My family was fortunate enough to spend the past two weeks in paradise. We had nothing to do but play in the waves, the sun and sand, enjoy extended family, and eat food prepared by others… Ahhh, what could be better?
We were all looking forward to this time, counting down the days on the calendar, planning what we would bring, shopping for what we needed.
But here is the thing about family vacations – just because you change location and take a break from the speed of life, doesn’t mean you get a break from parenting.
“Will you buy me that?”
“I don’t want to go out to dinner again.”
“Why can’t I wear my hat in the restaurant?”
“Can I have a treat?”
“Can I play my ipad?”
“I don’t want to go to the beach again…”
“But I don’t want to wear sunscreen!”
I could go on and on… But you know what I’m talking about, you are a parent and have taken your family on vacation – I have been laughing at all the posts I have followed of friends sharing about how tough it can be to live the experience they hope for.
Here were some things I remembered in my better moments to change the mood and bring us back to a place of playfulness…
Connect Before Correct – When I am present in my parenting practice I know that a lot of the annoying behavior that shows up while we are on vacation relate to the kids not feeling connected to us. I wanted to be on vacation! I wanted to hang out with my siblings and my parents and my husband, hoping that the kids could just entertain themselves. Well, for the most part they did, but when they began to bug each other, I tried to remember, it was their way of getting my attention, their way of letting me know they were feeling disconnected.
Kindness and Firmness – There is so much, SO MUCH, to see and do and want when we are on vacation… For the kids it may be treats or toys or anything that catches their eye at a gift shop. There is a lot of “no” coming out of my mouth, add lovingly indulgent family members and you begin to feel like a great big scrooge. “I love you and the answer is no,” was a response that helped me stay calm, even as my kids huffed and puffed and rolled their eyes at me.
Validating Feelings – It is annoying to have to put sunscreen on each day (multiple times), it is tough to have to sit down to a long dinner with a bunch of grown ups every night, it does seem unfair that you have to take your favorite hat off when we go to the restaurant… Our kids just want to know that we get them, that we understand what they are feeling. When we validate them, we are saying “It’s understandable that you feel that way, there isn’t anything wrong with you for feeling that way…. AND you need to wear sunscreen/come to dinner/take your hat off.”
Limited Choices – Now, I am not going to pretend that validating feelings leads to easy kids. Often, we need to follow our understanding with limited choices. Limited choices are two things that work for both you and your child. With the above examples they may be, “Do you want to put the sunscreen on your legs and I’ll do the rest, or do you want me to do it all?” And, “Would you like to sit by me or Auntie Kate (she’s popular with the kids in our family) at dinner?” Or, “Do you want to bring a bag to keep you hat in at the restaurant, or leave it here?”
Keep in mind, even the most skilled parenting moments may not lead to full cooperation from your kids. They are still going to fall apart, refuse your offers, and act in a way that leaves you wishing you left them at home…
They are children, drawing from the same limited life experience they have whether on vacation or at home. They are emotional, tired, hungry, hot… I am sure that if I checked in with my parents about those summer days from long ago, their perspective would be different than my childhood memories…
But how we respond to them can make a difference. Staying connected to them emotionally, validating what is true for them, and getting creative in our choices will help shape your vacation experience. Kindness and Firmness allows you to respect their needs and respect yourself and the situation.
Stay present, stay centered, stay aware, and remember that vacations are for making memories… Meet your kids where they are at with love and respect and enjoy the shift that occurs.