Updated: Aug 7, 2019
Don't just GO on holiday, BE on holiday. Some tips for managing the potential for a stressful (family) holiday
Aaah ....holidays. They are upon us.
Designed (at least in our heads and the marketing that surrounds them) to be idyllic experiences where everyone is smiley and doing happy stuff.
Togetherness. Sun shining. Beautiful beaches. Stunning accommodation. Tables laden with healthy food that will make your hair shiny and your skin glow.
Kids having fun together, laughing and giggling whilst they play in the pool. Couples gazing in to each other’s eyes whilst eating their candlelit dinner on a beach by the sea (does anyone ever really do that?).
And so it goes on. Essentially, a picture of stress-reducing loveliness that most of us will aspire and look forward to.
No work for 2 weeks. Spending quality time with the people we love. What’s not to love?
Well - if you ask me - there’s actually quite a lot not to love! Holidays can be the best and the worst of everything in a compact and bijoux period of time.
I do know of people and families who genuinely have the sort of holidays where everything is lovely, smiley and idyllic. Where they all just chill out, re-connect with each other and have a great time. Who come home rested, relaxed and feeling like they’ve had a proper break from their normal life. That their soul has been fed. That they have been reminded about the Who and What of their life.
BUT – for many, many people, holidays can be a high-stress experiences that are almost worse than staying at home. Wants, needs and priorities of individuals clash head-on, relationship wobbly bits get magnified and usually-effective partnerships get strained and even broken. Resentment rears its head. I know, from personal experience and talking to many, many people what a complete f**king disaster 2-week holidays can be, particularly if you have small children or teenagers coming along for the ride.
So why can a holiday become a disaster-zone?
I think it’s mostly because the expectations of the individuals going on the holiday are often quite different. Everyone is an individual and they want, expect and need different things -but that’s not acknowledged.
Here’s a common scenario:
Imagine I’m going on holiday with my partner and I’m the one that normally majors on looking after the kids at home. What I want from my holiday is somebody else to be looking after them and some rest from my everyday life. Somebody else being responsible for the constant supply of food and snacks, to make the cheese sandwiches or a drink or organise entertainment or whatever it might be. I want and need a rest and a proper break from parenting.
However, my partner - who is joint-owner of said kids and/but has a stressful and busy job to earn the money to pay for the holiday - wants to lie on a sun-bed for 2 weeks with a book and some podcasts, snoozing occasionally to catch up on their sleep because they are tired and need to recuperate before getting back to it in 2 weeks’ time.
You can see that we're both coming at the holiday from completely different angles. One of us doesn't want to look after and be responsible for the kids because they’re knackered, need a rest and its exhausting looking after them. The other one doesn't want to look after the kids because that is what they do all f**king year and somebody else needs to have a go. And they’re tired and knackered too. A disaster waiting to happen.
With some holiday companies there is, of course, the option to put your kids into a holiday club, especially if you're abroad. Isn’t that great - the kids have a whale of a time and you get a break? Er. What it more likely means is by the time you get home from your holiday, you've probably hardly seen them. When you have seen them, they're so frickin’ grumpy, tired and scratchy that going out for a family meal or having some really valuable family time is just a complete waste of time. Nightmare.
Even if you don’t have kids with you on holiday, if you have different expectations of what you are going to do with your valuable down-time together, the same nightmares can happen. You want to sight-see everything and be on the go. Your friend/partner wants to sit by the pool and drink cocktails. Oh dear.
So how can you get ahead of the curve?
So, all of this might sound a bit grim and I know it's not always like that for everyone but there are some things that you can do ahead of time to mitigate the potential for holiday disaster.
Funnily enough, it’s not rocket-science:
Have focussed conversations BEFORE you get there about what you each want and need from your holiday, how you are going to manage everyone’s expectations and why it’s important to do so;
Work out a plan between you so that you will all get plenty of what you want and need on holiday. For example: Can we split down the middle the days that we're going to be responsible for the kids and food? Some days I'll do it, some days you do it so we all get some proper time off as we won't be holding that responsibility;
Include conversations with the kids if they are old enough and coming on holiday too. Maybe they do go into holiday club for some of the time but there will also be some days where you all hang out on the beach and have some fun together as a family. Other days help them understand that you might be doing separate things as everyone needs a change of routine and time off, including the grown-ups
Agree with yourself that you will get the max out of your designated time to do the things you want to do or when you don't have responsibility for the kids. Decide that you will switch off and be kind to yourself. Decide that the odd day of living on sugar and ice cream won't harm your children and that going to bed with sand between their toes doesn't mean you're a bad parent. Getting wound up about what you see as lowered standards (!) is going to cancel out the benefits of your time off;
Broker a deal between you all (yes really!) about what’s going to happen: Be as specific as you can and write down what is agreed so everyone is clear ahead of time and can see their wants and needs included in the plan. Compromise may be the key here but it will be worth it!
Take the written deal on holiday with you and stick it up on a wall in your accommodation where everyone can see it!
Refer to it as many times as you need to if things start to slip.
However weird doing this might seem, because you have an agreed arrangement in place before you get there, the pre-preparation can make it possible to avoid the confrontations, the strops, the resentment and all of the crappy stuff that can happen and escalate so very easily when you are away.
You are all WAY more likely to actually get what you want and need from your holiday but in a way that makes it feel okay, that will help you to spend some time with your partner and to help you spend some time as a whole family where it's relaxed and fun.
You can all get your rest and recuperation and your holiday won’t just feeling like a complete frickin’ expensive waste of time and a waste of money.
A couple of other options to have up your sleeve ….
There are a couple of other options that deserve a special mention:
Firstly: the joy of separate holidays! If you’ve never done it, give it a go. My husband and I aim for a separate holiday each year and it works really well. It doesn't have to be expensive, it doesn't have to be for long but it’s a great option. We did so even when our son was young (although I know he fended way better than me when left in sole charge of a child!). If you go away on your own, you can get some proper rest and do things that maybe you don't want to do together. Definitely worth thinking about.
Secondly and I really mean this: Think about whether going on holiday is actually worth it! I know that a change is as good as a rest and all that but…. I honestly think that “going on holiday” is a bit of a social construction and at some points in our lives it may be better to just knock it on the head. Why spend loads of money and precious time away going somewhere and doing things that are just stressful and horrible? If your kids are small and exhausting (however much you adore them) maybe call in grandparent favours if you can and get a weekend away without them instead. If your partner can’t or won’t agree to giving you proper time-out on your holiday or agreeing to do some of the things that you want to do, there is always the option not to go away with them or at all. Or find a new partner … but that’s a whole other blog.
I really hope that you have a great holiday that gives you what you need.
Bonnes vacances a tous!