Family Vacation?

Family Vacation?

Tired But Happy Mom Contemplates the Contradiction of “Family Vacation”

The family vacation: It always sounds like so much fun! You and your brood get to indulge in relaxed, summertime QT with their aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, all at some lovely spot carefully chosen for its lake, beach, woodland beauty, gorgeous countryside—or, if you’re lucky, a family place where you yourself spent summers, enjoying the same kind of family vacations.

Then you get there. And hits you that “family vacation” is an oxymoron on a par with “jumbo shrimp” and “streamlined government.” You begin to remember that, actually, your mom and her sisters were fighting a lot of the time, that you and your cousins got stranded on that island during the storm of the decade, that you were never able to sleep after the summer you ill-advisedly read The Shining, and that there were a ton of mosquitoes.

At least, this is what’s dawning on Tired But Happy Mom, writing to you from the wilds of Maine, where she’s lucky enough to have a summer place that’s been in her family for years (read: free vacation) and commodious enough to house her family, as well as her brother, his wife, and their two adorable little boo-boos. 

Again, it sounds great. But between, Tired But Happy Mom having to work for most of the day and her grumpy brother grumping at her children in her absence, the whole scenario is beginning to feel a little like The Shining, minus axes and ghosts—which leaves us with a big house in the middle of nowhere, all work and no play et al, and a lot of male grumpiness.

One of the chief bugaboos of the family vacation, Tired But Happy Mom is realizing, is the difference in parenting styles. Now, Tired But Happy Mom never thought of herself as having a particular parenting style. She just loves to be with her schmushkies, gives them time-outs as necessary, makes sure that everyone gets healthy meals and snacks, enforces politeness, and especially in the summer, likes for them to be outdoors as much as possible, encouraging them to explore (safely) and to invent their own fun.

But, of course, every parent has their own take on this basic model—and, in some cases, deviates quite a lot from this model. This is not to say that hers is the best model. It is to say, however, that differing models are a major source of friction, particularly on family vacations.

For example, as noted, Tired But Happy Mom must work for a healthy chunk of the day, and because of this, she must leave her brood in the care of her brother. Her brother, however, seems to forget about feeding people and is the kind of dad who yells—at her kids.

Now, this is not acceptable. In Tired But Happy Mom’s book, yelling isn’t cool to begin with. But one never, ever should yell at someone else’s children. Period. Of course, if there is a safety emergency, people need to do what they need to do. Otherwise, if kids other than your own are seriously acting up, sternness and a clear delineation of ground rules are fine. But, really, take it up with the parent.

In her own case, Tired But Happy Mom understands what it’s like taking care of three kids. Little Boy, being three, definitely has his moments and may need to have his behavior curtailed in the form of a time-out. Fine and appropriate. But Oldest and Younger Daughter are really helpful with younger children, steering Little Boy as well as their little cousins to fun activities and even fixing them snacks.

That is, they’re really pretty well-behaved to the point of being shy, especially with adults they don’t know well. Like their uncle, for example.

At the same time, however, Tired But Happy Mom is grateful for her brother’s childcare help. Heck, said family vacation would not be possible if she didn’t work during it, so his help is essential and appreciated. She’s trying to make up for it by taking people out for dinner and getting little treats. Still: yelling at her kids? No go.

So, Tired But Happy Mom had to have a talk with her brother this morning. She outlined the points above, stressing her gratitude. Her brother did not perceive himself as having yelled and stalked off. Yay, family vacation!

So, she tried again, deploying another tack. One of the virtues of the family vacation is that you’re dealing with family—and you know your family. Tired But Happy Mom knows her brother well enough to know that a straight-up, get-your-s*%t-together talk is sometimes just the ticket. So, that’s what he got. The gist of it was, “You always talk about wanting to get to know my kids better, complaining that we never have enough ‘family time,’ and when we make time for it, you’re yelling at them. What’s your problem? Enjoy them! They want to get to know you, but you’re scaring them, and they’re going to end up not liking you! Get your s*%t-together and have fun, you jerk!” Then she punched him in the arm. And they laughed.

When she left to go work at the local public library this morning, everyone was happily trotting off to the beach. Now, that’s the picture of a family vacation.






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