These days in my clinical practice, I’m hearing a lot of reports back about the challenges of family vacations.

A few observations:

  • Most people need a vacation to recover from their vacation.
  • Many families have a ‘leader’ who organizes activities and they are often resented.
  • There is an intense pressure in the group to be together and tension rises with each day.
  • Individuals feel anxious or guilty about not going along to get along.
  • Some families spend most of the year avoiding each other or having superficial and obligatory relationships, and then unrealistically expect a lot of closeness on a 24/7 vacation.

A couple questions:

  • How much time do you spend with family during the year? How frequently and how many hours at a time?
  • How many days into a vacation does it take before you get weary, resentful, sullen, etc?
  • If this was YOUR vacation (not a family vacation), how would you spend your time?
  • How difficult is it in your family to make it YOUR vacation? (i.e. spending your time in a self-directed way)

Do your planning in advance to  increase the possibility of family vacations being a boom for  self and relationships:

  •  Look back on past vacations and identify how long the ‘self’ holds together before getting reactive (critical, helpless, resentful, angry, etc.) to one or two of the other family members….is this related to  how much you are going along to get along?
  • Can you spend the entire time with the family without ‘losing self’? If not, plan to stay only as long as you can maintain ‘self’ (make up a reason if need be but let others know in advance of the trip). Better that you have a good time while you’re there and others will enjoy you more while you are more relaxed, even if the trip is shorter.
  • Who has made decisions about how you would spend time? Ask yourself how you would want to spend the time, plan it, and inform others of your plans before the trip.
  • Identify at least one or two family members to spend time with intentionally. Prearrange some time away from the larger group with that person.
  • Most importantly, expect resistance in the family if you start acting in more self-directed ways…it’s nearly guaranteed and a natural part of the process. Record the number of strategies used in the group to try to get you to ‘change back’…there’s nothing personal in the resistance and the process can be fun to watch. The more the resistance, the more you have your work cut out for you. If you can stay the course, the effort will pay off. BTW, don’t expect any help from others. It’s not about love and attachment. Think of it as rising anxiety in others whenever a relationship shifts towards more individuality and less togetherness.