Jewish World Review Jan. 25, 2006 / 25 Teves 5766
Prescription for a bad vacation and a lot more
Now that we are back from the holidays and many a winter vacation, guess what a lot of parents are discovering? That the one time you need a vacation from a vacation is when you take a vacation with your kids, according to The Wall Street Journal.
I'm just not sure who the bigger whiners are here the parents or the children.
Journal writer Jared Sandberg recounts the story of a psychiatrist, his wife and 5-year-old son on a ski trip to Vermont. One day they tried to put the child in ski class so Mom and Dad could have some time to hike together. Only they soon got a call from the ski school that the child was crying and throwing up and he needed to be picked up.
Was the child sick? It appears he was just ticked. At least one can surmise this, given the mother's reaction to the father in the half-hour between the time they got the call and then scooped up their little one: According to Dad, there was "panic, dread and ... shouting about 'what kind of a father does this to a small child?' "
"What kind of a father" puts a child in ski class? How about one who wants him to learn a cool skill? If that's Mom's reaction, I'm guessing that child was primed to flip out and it will happen again.
Another mother took her 16-year-old daughter and two friends to Florida for the holidays. "The powerlessness on vacation you can't mask," she said, apparently as opposed to one's office life. She says she just "surrendered" the first day of the trip, and allowed herself to be the on-call "entertainment planner" to her daughter and her friends. "There's no way to keep them on any kind of a schedule," she said, noting that her daughter and friends seemed completely unappreciative. Mom is now back in the office and happy to be overwhelmed by work. What does this mother do for a living? She's, um, an executive coach.
Sandberg summarizes more such stories this way: "At least at work, the chaos is relatively predictable, the day has a beginning and an end, and you get some respect." That is, apparently, as opposed to the home.
Or, as one beleaguered dad said, at least "at work there's a hierarchy."
But I think it really comes down to this, as another dad put it when he got back to the office, " 'I was a happy camper sitting at my desk.' ... There, he says, his hopes for his colleagues' happiness were high, but not as stratospheric as those for his children."
Bingo. We just can't stand the idea of our children being anything less than perfectly happy in the moment. Hey, I fall into that trap, too. We're crazy about our kids and we want them to be happy. But when we have to have these perfectly perfect vacations to help make our kids perfectly happy every nanosecond, we're doomed to misery on vacation or at home.
I'm not saying vacations should be all about character-building, but let's lighten up. They should be about being together as a family. A lot of times that will be about having fun. (The lower the bar for "fun," by the way, the more "fun" one is going to have.) But there's a lot of benefit from being together as a family even when it's not always "fun" for every person every moment.
Anyway, why is it "OK" for parents to be miserable every second of a vacation, but the kids can't be "miserable" for a single moment? So they get bored, or they don't like the activity or the class Mom and Dad have chosen for them. So what? Why don't the kids have to work a little harder to help make the vacation pleasant for other family members? That is what it sometimes means, or should mean, to be part of a family.
What's going on during these miserable vacations is what's going on in too many of our homes: We are so focused on the impossible and undesirable goal of making the world revolve completely around our children and their happiness, that it's inevitable that too often everyone becomes miserable.
And, unfortunately, that's not something simple like a family vacation to fix.
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