Unpack your holiday before you leave home …
Holidaying as a family can be a tricky experience that can leave us wondering why we bothered in the first place. It’s not usually the holiday itself but the frosty atmosphere that can arise when things get tough and the reality isn’t the dream. Here are some tips for avoiding some of the pitfalls.
Holidays are upon us.
Everyone smiling. Blue skies. Sun shining. Beautiful beaches. Children laughing and playing happily together in the pool. Couples gazing in to each other’s eyes.
An advertising agency’s view of stress-free gorgeousness that most of us will aspire and look forward to. What’s not to love?
Well – probably quite a lot not to love actually! Our holidays have the potential to be both a triumph and a disaster and everything in between. Partnerships that usually work well can become strained or the dodgy bits in a relationship show up even more. Arguments happen. Resentment rears its head. True whether you have small children whose needs are great at home and away or teenagers who simply want what they want and dig in.
Q: Why does a holiday come close to a living nightmare?
A: Because everyone on the holiday is an individual! Everyone wants, expects and needs different things but the reality of that is usually not acknowledged (or is forgotten) when you are all going away to have a good time together.
Here’s an example:
You normally carry the majority load of looking after the kids and the household stuff. On holiday, you want and need somebody else to look after them and their needs so you can get some rest and a proper break from parenting.
Your partner - who has a stressful and busy job to earn the money to pay for the holiday - wants to do nothing but read and catch up on their sleep to recuperate before getting back to it in 2 weeks’ time. No problem – except you have 2 kids under 10 who can’t be left to their own devices.
You both want and need a proper rest, but you’re both coming at the holiday from completely different angles. One of you doesn't want to look after and be responsible for the kids all the time because that is what you normally do. The other one doesn’t want to be responsible for the kids because they want/need a proper rest from work and looking after them is exhausting. A disaster in the making. Grim.
Q: How can you prevent a holiday disaster?
A: Spend time on a bit of pre-preparation using the Tips below. They will definitely help to head-off the potential for stress and dis-harmony:
Going away with other adults (yes – that does include your Partner)? If so, have specific conversations before you go about what you each want and need from the holiday. Include how you will manage everyone’s expectations and why that’s important;
Plan together how you are each going to get plenty of what you want and need whilst you are away. Can you divide up the days that you and your partner will take responsibility for entertaining the kids and making sure they are fed and watered? Doing so will mean that you both get time off and can take your eye off the ball without needing to worry. Agree that some days you will spend the day at the beach (or wherever) together as a family but other days you might be doing some things separately;
Have a word with yourself so that you can properly benefit from your time off! Decide that you will switch off when it’s your designated turn to do just that, to treat yourself kindly and take full advantage of someone else being in charge of your children. Decide that you absolutely won’t judge their culinary skills or food-purchase choices and that if your 3-year-old ends up wearing his 8-year old sister’s T shirt, it really doesn’t matter. Getting wound up is going to cancel out the benefit;
Have conversations with the kids as well if they are old enough. Find ways to help them understand that you all need a rest and a change of routine, including the grown-ups. If it’s an option, talk about the holiday clubs and when they might go. Let them know that what they enjoy and want to do will be planned in to the holiday too but that applies to everyone, not just them;
This is the important bit: Discuss and agree a deal between you all (yes really!) around how things are going to work whilst you are away and what’s going to be happening. Be specific and write down the details of what is agreed so everyone knows and clearly understands it. It’s not about planning every hour of your holiday in advance (however much that might please the control-freaks amongst us!) but about setting out a plan so everyone can “see” themselves and what they want somewhere in the agreement and in a fair way. It might need compromise, but it will be worth it;
Pack the written agreement in your suitcase and take it with you on holiday! Stick it up in a prominent place in your holiday accommodation so that everyone can clearly see it;
Refer to the agreement as often as you need to if things start to slip.
However odd doing this might seem to you and your holiday companions, your pre-planning and agreements can help to avoid the arguments, the strops, the resentment and all of the horrible reactions that can occur so very quickly when you are away. (You are, of course, allowed to renegotiate the agreement once you are away but don’t forget why you put it there in the first place!)
With an agreement like this in place, you are all far more likely to all get what you want and need from your time away and in a way that feels fair and that allows you to spend time as a couple, as a whole family or any combination where it's relaxed and fun. Your holiday won’t feel like an expensive waste of time and money. So much better.
To holiday or not to holiday, that is an option!
It’s also worth saying that you may want to take a moment to consider whether going away right now is worth it. “Going on holiday” is something that has been socially constructed and although we all know that rest and relaxation is fundamental to our wellbeing, why would you spend money and time going away from home when you know the reality won’t be the same as the dream? There are plenty of other less complicated and less stressful ways to have fun as a family, to get time off to refill your energy reserves or to get a way for a break. Greater joy from holidays will return at some point as children grow up, priorities change and family life shifts over time. Maybe it’s better to wait until then? No harm done.
Whatever you do, have a great summer and make sure you all get a bit of what you want and need. You all deserve it.
Sue Tappenden is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders and owners manage the complexities of their whole life. She knows that working on our relationship with ourselves and others is the route to sorting out most things and that a small shift in perspective can make a massive difference. Find out more on her website: www.headspaceforchange.com.