For many families vacations can be tortuous. They can be expensive. New places and new schedules make for a difficult adjustment. Some fathers really can’t vacate, and so they stay on their phones and answer emails day in and day out, even more absent than normal days at home. Then, every family vacations differently, which can also mean that children see others afforded freedom of which they’ve only dreamed. Children, especially young ones, can be out of their rhythms. Emotions can be heightened because everyone is spending more time with one another, and so you have to really deal with your close neighbor, the one who has been living in your house (and, as it turns out, that dealing is wrought with hidden bitterness and frustrations that were somehow tied to the roof of your car). Add on top of all this the expectation of the adults: because this is vacation, things should be easier, not harder; there should be less parenting, not more; there should be more sleep, not less. Only strong remedies can fix some of these vacation illnesses. Still, others can be cured by a few simple principles, one of them being the ever-present truth that family vacations are much smoother when parents realize they cannot vacate from parenting.
Healthy vacationing begins at home, long before a single bag is packed. A family may leave their physical space, their schedules, and their work, but the family can never leave itself. Therefore, the first rule in healthy vacationing is that a healthy family has to be the one vacating. The second rule is that the healthy family has to plan to continue in its healthiness, even as it vacates. Part of continuing as a healthy family is to remember that as parents, we never vacate from parenting. Parents may vacate from many good things (schedules, work, their house, etc.), and this itself is desirable and good, the purpose of a vacation. But parents cannot vacate from being parents. When our children join us for vacations, we cannot cease being fathers and mothers. Below are three principles to keep in mind when taking your summer vacations, whether spending a few days with grandparents or taking a family vacation to the beach. Each principle is accompanied by phrases my wife and I say or have said to our children, sometimes multiple times a day. They are reminders to us as much as they are reminders to them:
Don’t vacate from your manners. “We didn’t leave our manners at home,” or “Others are sleeping. Inside voices. Inside hands. Inside feet.” If we want our children to be consistent and lovely humans, this means we must be ever-so-purposeful about teaching them virtue and decency, especially when we are out of our family rhythm. Vacations are the times when we can either undermine the parenting we have been doing all year or cause it to bear much fruit, to take even greater root into the soil of our children’s imaginations and expectations. This includes not interrupting others. Continuing to say “Yes, mam.” and “Yes, sir.” Obeying quickly and joyfully. Obeying the first time. There are some things which cease to be the case when we go on vacation; but there are many others which must continue, and on the top of that list is behavior and speech which loves and honors others.
Don’t vacate from disciplining. “Go sit in timeout, please,” or “Please go apologize to your cousin and seek forgiveness.” When we vacate and arrive at our new location—beach condo, family residence, hotel—I make sure to identify the best place for “timeout.” I don’t tell others I do this (before now), and I don’t point it out and nag the children with it. I don’t’ say, “Oooh, looks like dad found your timeout spot! I’ll go ahead and warm it up for ya!” I just quickly look around as we get situated and plan for the moment when we will have to ask Emery or Charlotte to take a moment for a timeout. If we know our children, we know they will continue to be fully human, wherever they are, and I know that I will need to fully be a father, no matter where we are. Lauren and I need to be in a good rhythm of how we discipline, when and where we discipline, especially in public places, and especially according to good and biblical principles, rather than out of our own momentary annoyance. These rhythms and habits of discipline must be set at home, day by day, but they must be enforced and encouraged when we are on vacation. In so doing, the vacation will be smooth and enjoyable for the whole family. If you discipline your children at home for lying or snatching a toy, then that should not change when you go on vacation. If we let those things slide, we undermine ourselves as parents and our child’s impressionable imagination concerning conduct and society. Also, think about how often vacations require us to be in closer quarters with our family and friends. Requiring proper conduct from our children while on vacation is even more a matter of “loving your neighbor.”
I write this on our second day at the beach. On the first day we had to establish the rule for Emery (5) and Charlotte (3) that when they are not playing with the toys, they must put the toys away, in the proper bags and boxes, in the corner of the living room. Not only is this what we require at home, but it is also loving to the rest of the family not to leave all the toys strewn throughout the condo. In the immediate, it would be much easier to let it go, to not deal with it. But it’s the kind of thing that will start to cause physical and emotional clutter throughout the week here, especially if we are vacationing with others who are not used to having small children around. Because we want to love our neighbor, and teach our children to love their neighbor, we need to be considerate and well-disciplined on our vacations. It’s good to allow freedom for the whole family when your family vacates, but it’s good to allow that freedom to stay within healthy boundaries; those boundaries are held together here as they are back at home, through biblical discipline.
Don’t vacate from praising your children. “Well done, Em!” or “Charlotte, I’m so proud you picked up your toys without us asking.” This is similar to the previous point. If during vacations we neglect to discipline our children, we will neglect a good opportunity to love them well and love others well. If we neglect to praise them when they do good, we also neglect a good opportunity to love them well and lover others well. For a child, a familiar compliment in a new space will feel brand new. As parents, we want to see good at-home habits become good every-where habits, but to do so we cannot as parents neglect to recognize our child’s appropriation of those habits when outside the home. That is to say, we cannot cease being parents, either in curbing our children away from vice or spurring them on to virtue. Again, a familiar compliment in a new setting will be loud and clear for a child, especially if the parent points out the surpassed barrier of the new setting. When you arrive at the new location and your helpful child comes to you and asks how they can help, reinforce this in them, that you appreciate their consideration, and that you appreciate they “are even considerate when we are away from home!”
Don’t vacate from your God. “Of course we are going to Church; today is the Lord’s Day,” or “What a treat for us to have family prayer time this evening, especially while we are at the beach.” A vacation is an opportunity to visit somewhere special. There will be plenty of moments to further catechize our children. We should look for those moments. But don’t just look for those moments, plan them, create them. When my family visits the beach, I like to remind my girls, as we take our first dip in the ocean, that “God created every drop (Ps. 89:9), and that it is the Lord who tells the waves where to stop, the Lord who sets the bounds of these mighty waters (Job 38:11), and that the Lord’s beloved will be as numberless as the sands on this seashore, which you, my child, are among (Jer. 33:22), and that the Lord is mightier than these small Gulf waves, far mightier even than this whole ocean (Ps. 93:4).” What we bring on vacation with us says a lot about who we are, what we love, what we think we need. The same is true for what we leave behind. If vacationing has clear similarities to fasting, and it does, then there are prime opportunities to bolster our Christian faith and the faith of our children when we vacation. Bring your Bible. Bring your Book of Common Prayer. Bring your books. Bring good music to sing with your family. Bring your family’s favorite board game to set those childhood memories firm in place. Most especially, bring your Christian faith and bring an imagination for how to especially mature it during your vacation.
At this point the reader may be thinking that this doesn’t sound like much of a vacation. And to that I say, “Maybe not,” at least a vacation from parenting. This is where parents need to, together, have the right expectations. Vacations should mean vacating, but vacations can’t mean neglecting. To ensure the reader that when the Daigles vacate, we indeed want our children to likewise relax and enjoy the change of pace and scenery, there are some home rules we drop or adjust:
Movies in greater abundance. At our home movie days are only Friday and Saturday. When we vacation, we allow every day to be a movie day, without binge watching, which we never think is a good idea. This doesn’t mean they can watch movies whenever they want. It means we allow, as we are doing as I type this, the kids to watch Toy Story while they get ready for their afternoon naps, which, on a Tuesday, doesn’t happen in our home. But we can loosen this up, without being fussy about it. And without any fear of contradiction we can return to our normal habits when we get home, because, well, “We left ‘Movie Day Everyday’ back at the beach, buried in the sand. We will dig it up next summer.”
Looser on snacks. I don’t believe our children have ever had a soda. Perhaps once they had a sip at a baseball game. It’s not because we think sodas are the devil’s nectar. It’s only that sodas are not a regular part of our diet at home, and when we eat at a restaurant, the children drink water or milk. We like it that way. However, when we vacate, we loosen that up a bit. We will allow them to share a soda at dinner, or we will let them get one at the gas station and they can share it. Yes, I know. We are really letting our hair down! Well, as I said earlier, it’s good to allow freedom for the whole family when your family vacates, but it’s good to allow that freedom to stay within healthy boundaries.
Bedtimes are negotiable. Vacations for us often feel like big family sleepovers. Bags are squished together. Beds are close by. We may sleep in later than normal (or not, if beds are close by). We visit more and spend lots of time together. And I mentioned earlier we are more lenient on snacks and movies. This means things get squished right up to bedtime—like walking on the beach or reading or watching a movie or playing games or visiting. And so we let those things spill over into what would otherwise be our children’s normal bedtime. This kind of frayed edge communicates to our children that all things have their place, and that includes letting good things creep out of their place.
There are no off-days for a parent. There are no sick-days. And there are no raises. There is no maternity leave from motherhood, and the legislature will not advocate for a minimum wage for fatherhood. Parenting is one of the greatest proofs for God’s existence, for it is only by divine inspiration all this stuff gets done day in and day out, and that we wake up each morning to do it again. This doesn’t change when we vacation. Our little gifts we’ve been given come with us, and from them we cannot and should not want to vacate. We can parent while on vacation, but we cannot put our parenting on vacation. A vacation is nothing more than yet another stage upon which we can teach our children to be good people, or not. To close, I remind each of us, yet again, of the best quote on parenting:
"[A child's] character is forming under a principle, not of choice, but of nurture. The spirit of the house is breathed into his nature, day by day. The anger and gentleness, the fretfulness and patience - the appetites, passions, and manners - all the variant moods of feeling exhibited around him, pass into him as impressions, and become seeds of character in him; not because the parents will, but because it must be so, whether they will or not. They propagate their own evil in the child, not by design, but under a law of moral infection...The spirit of the house is in the members of the children by nurture, not by teaching, not by any attempt to communicate the same, but because it is the air the children breathe...Understand that it is the family spirit, the organic life of the house, the silent power of a domestic godliness, working as it does, unconsciously and with sovereign effect - this it is which forms your children to God." (Christian Nurture by Horace Bushnell)