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8 Harsh Truths About Summer Vacation Parents Need to Understand

Disney World has no power over the perfect blue joy of a hotel pool.

Summer vacations offer time for families to get away from their everyday lives to experience adventure, and to bond and relax. Kids anticipate road trips and destinations, while parents worry about the costs and finding the time to take a vacation in the first place. But somewhere between a child’s wide-eyed excitement about travel and parent’s dread of the work involved the harsh truth of summer vacation waits to reveal itself.

The fact is that travel is super important for kids and child development, and the costs don’t have to be crazy high if the vacation is less about the destination than the experience. But also, it’s important to remember that expectations don’t take a holiday when the family does.

Summer Vacations Are Necessary

American employers and workers do not seem to value vacation. In fact, American workers are notorious for leaving unclaimed vacation time on the table at the end of the year. This is often due to work cultures that reward unreasonable schedules over self-care. But when people don’t take a vacation they are more stressed, more resentful, more likely to burn out and more likely to have physical health issues like a heart attack or stroke.

Parents need to model to children that vacation is important and crucial to health. It’s the only way to break the cycle.

Kids Need to Be Prepared for Vacation

Being prepared for vacation isn’t simply about packing and making travel arrangements. Kids need to be well-prepared for a vacation so that they understand expectations and schedules well ahead of time.

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Kids generally don’t do well in chaos. In fact, children thrive on routine. And when a routine is suddenly broken, it can destabilize a child’s emotions and behaviors. For a vacation to go as smoothly as possible, parents should make sure kids know the itinerary well ahead of time, as well of what kind of behavior is expected along the way. Asking an unprepared kid to make changes at a moment’s notice is a recipe for disaster.

Discipline Shouldn’t Take Time Off for Summer Vacation

Parents who have a solid discipline plan should make sure that the plan remains consistent during vacations. Parents who decide not to keep expectations consistent outside of the home will find that kids might begin pushing boundaries, not only on vacation but once they return back home, too.

The Summer Vacation Destination Is Less Important Than Family Bonding

Spectacular international destinations, trips to inclusive resorts or journeys to Disney are by far the gold standard for a family vacation, but the destination matters far less than kids spending time with parents. The fact is that the important part for a kid is spending time with parents and creating memories. That can happen in a tent as easily as it could happen at a family resort. Parents should make time to focus on experiences rather than taking vacations that primarily serve signal status.

Fathers Need to Take on More Vacation Responsibility

Family vacations have a tendency not to be a vacation for parents. That’s because parental duties continue despite the fact that locations have changed. And for mothers who already take on much of the burden of family work, a vacation can simply serve to double the labor if they are tasked with planning and preparation.

Fathers need to be honest and think critically about the division of labor in planning a vacation. It simply isn’t fair to leave it all up to mom on top of the duties she already has. It’s up to fathers to take on some additional tasks, before during and after a vacation to make sure it’s equitable for everyone.

Summer Vacations Should Have Room for Unstructured Downtime

As fun and rowdy as summer vacations can be, parents need to make sure that there is unstructured time for kids to decompress. It’s easy for kids to get overstimulated when the action never stops. That stimulation can lead to behavior issues or poor sleep and eating habits.

Adding a bit of downtime, particularly if it is a screen-free hour before bed or some swimming time during the afternoon. Can give kids a chance to do their own thing and process all the sights and sounds they’ve been taking in. Bonus points for parents who use that time to talk about what their kids are thinking about their vacation experiences.

Parents Need to Manage Their Vacation Expectations

The fact is that all the planning in the world won’t make a vacation completely seamless. When traveling with kids, there is bound to be a tantrum or a hiccup along the way. Parents who are not expecting perfection from their vacation or from their kids will be better off when things go sideways. But when parents expect too much, the stress of things going wrong can lead to yelling and resentment and general bad vibes. Nobody wants that.

On Vacation the Pool Is Often the Star Attraction

It never fails: A parent shells out hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to give their kids the experience of a lifetime and all the child wants to do is hang out in the pool. If you expect this turn of events, it will be less likely to make you angry. And you might even forgive yourself for not buying an extra day at the amusement park.