The hot summer sun and end of the school year makes everyone look forward to vacation. Finally, a time to rest, relax, and unwind after a crazy year. But for those of us traveling to see relatives, or heading to the beach on a vacation with extended family, rest and relaxation can be elusive. My friend, Brittany, a mom of two boys ages 2 and under, just posted a picture of her family at the beach with the caption, “’I feel so refreshed after my beach vacation with my young kids!’ said no one ever.”
I remember those days of chasing my toddlers by the water, trying to keep them from ingesting a shovel full of sand. Depending on the ages of our kids, and the sheer number of other family members involved, vacations aren’t usually the oasis of calm we hope them to be.
A few years ago our family joined my in-laws and sister-in-law’s family for a Christmas/retirement celebration in California. What better place to enjoy a break from our crazy schedule than in warm and sunny San Diego? We had hardly arrived before we realized there was trouble in paradise. My sister-in-law’s family was battling the stomach flu with three young kids. Add to the mix our four kids and sharing bathrooms, and you can imagine the result.
My generous in-laws, who made the trip possible, were looking forward to non-stop family time together—family dinners, family bike rides, family games. They even thoughtfully volunteered to watch the grandkids one night so the parents could have a dinner out without cutting up someone else’s meat. But my husband and I were hoping for a little more space, and some time for our family to be able to explore the city without the entire crew of 13.
All of us had expectations of what this trip should look like. The problem was, none of us communicated our expectations to each other. As I look back, I realize how much frustration could have been avoided if I had checked my own heart and been willing to communicate more openly.
Here are a few simple things I’ve learned to help navigate expectations with summer vacations.
1. Be honest. Talk openly and honestly with other family members about your vacation hopes. So often each of us has an ideal vacation plan that we never fully communicate with anyone else. When our expectations are dashed, we can feel disappointed or embittered. Long before you’re all piling into the rental house with suitcase in hand, talk about how much time you’ll spend together. Can there be certain meals with the whole extended family and other meals on your own? Will there be a rotation of cooks to ensure the same people aren’t always in the kitchen? Talk about how much whole group time you’ll have together versus time as individual families. The more things you work out beforehand, the smoother things will go.
2. Be flexible. Flexibility is defined as bending easily without breaking. The only constant in our life is God. Everything else will change. How can you be flexible with your hopes and expectations for vacation? How can you bend to accommodate your in-law’s menu preference, or the naptime schedule of your niece? We all come with a set of plans in mind, but hold them loosely, and remember the relationship is more important than the ideal plan.
3. Be a peacemaker. When we enter a vacation holding our expectations loosely, it will help us to maintain peace. When we’re willing to give up our ideal plan of a quiet afternoon by the pool (without complaining) for your father-in-law’s plan of a family boating expedition, we are sacrificing for the good of someone else. We’re following the pattern of Christ, the ultimate peacemaker. “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:13-14).
4. Be loving (respectful, sacrificial, considerate). We can love those we are with by accommodating their preferences with joy. This may mean you are eating Aunt Milly’s famous chili (again) when you’d rather have grilled fish. But we look for ways to lay down our rights in order to bridge the gap with the other person. We take the apostle Paul’s advice in Philippians 2:3-4, that we, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but to the interests of others.” We’re following the way of Christ.
5. Be servant-minded. Vacation conjures up pictures in my mind of laying in poolside chairs with food that’s magically prepared and delivered. But few of our family vacations actually look like this. Most of us still need to cook, keep an eye on children, and even do laundry. It would do us good to prepare our hearts to serve during vacation. Think of Jesus’ words and example, the perfect King who came to serve, not to be served (Matt. 20:28). How can you practically love and serve those you are with? Can you unload the dishwasher in the morning? Make coffee for the group? Offer to keep an eye on a new mom’s baby so she can take a nap? Sometimes we forget that joy comes through serving. Ask God to help you keep a tender heart to those you are with, and for grace to serve them with love.
Family vacations have the potential to be one of the best, most memorable times of the year. But they also have the potential to create division over petty squabbles and unmet expectations. As you load your minivan this summer, keep in mind that our call to love and serve applies during vacation as well. Christians are not exempt from loving and serving their family just because we’re on a special getaway. Hold your plans with an open hand, and ask God to give you unexpected joy and grace as you make lasting memories with those you love.