Don’t get me wrong – we have had some amazing family vacations! Each one has precious and unforgettable moments. But there are also those conflict-laden moments when I wonder why I ever thought this would be such a great idea. Over the years, though, those family conflicts have taught me some things:
People cannot listen until they know that they have been heard – When people don’t feel heard, they only get louder and more difficult. It’s not that I didn’t hear that my daughter “hates history” it’s just we are in colonial Williamsburg, for Pete’s sake. However, if I fail to acknowledge her frustration, I only get to hear about it more often and at a higher volume.
You will never make all of the people happy all of the time – OK, we all know this, don’t we? So why do we keep trying to do it? Usually it is because it is really uncomfortable for us to let anyone be unhappy. Often I find that if I can just sit with my own discomfort, it allows the unhappy ones the time to get over theirs. Occasionally, they even find that they have more fun than they expected to…
Don’t focus too much on the one with the bad attitude –it can be tempting to try to appease the unhappy one as it can be hard to ignore the grumbling, pouting or temper tantrums. However, this only reinforces bad behavior and negates others who are already on board with the plan.
Provide options to the opposition – everyone needs to “save face” when losing a battle. Sometimes people (even pint-sized ones) just need to feel like they have something they can control. Our teenaged daughter missed seeing Mount Rushmore because she was so relieved to finally have Wi-Fi after days in the “middle of nowhere.” My husband and I could have criticized her choice, but we didn’t. We left her happily connected. She was a much happier camper (literally and figuratively) when we returned.
Make sure everyone wins some of the time – everyone needs to feel that some things along the way have gone their way. To us it may look trivial (e.g., who gets to ride shotgun or choose the music) but don’t assume it’s small stuff to them. Often, it represents much more. And someone is probably keeping score. It is almost never about the actual thing in question – and it is not necessarily even about equity or fairness. Everybody wants a voice and a vote- validation that they matter.
I wish I could say that given all this practical learning our family vacations are filled with peace and civilized debate. Alas, this is not the case. Sometimes, though, the measure of success is not an absence of conflict, but a reduction in its frequency and severity!