How to Survive a (Family-Style) Holiday Vacation
December 17, 2012
How to Survive a (Family-Style) Holiday Vacation
By Alyson Schafer

Grandma and Grandpa just called to say they would like everyone to spend the holidays with them at their Florida condo. Just imagine: all the cousins going to the beach and playing in the pool together, all the adults sipping gin and tonics and having long overdue visits.  It sounds like heaven, right? Um, well, maybe.

For some, family holidays mean one thing: run the other way!

If you think parenting issues create tension between you and your spouse, just wait until your sister starts issuing timeouts during the turkey dinner. What was supposed to be an idyllic family gathering (champagne flutes clinking and children's laughter floating over the low murmur of waves crashing) can easily devolve into a toxic reawakening of unresolved family tensions. We just can't help it; each of us slides back into his/her familiar childhood role (e.g. big sister becomes the boss - not just of her kids, but of you and your kids, too).  Our parenting style feels showcased, judged and compared. And, as those childhood inadequacies consume us, we begin to doubt our abilities.  

Here are some ideas that will help make holiday family time happy, not horrific:

1. An ounce of prevention: 
On the first day of the trip, invite your siblings to a meeting to discuss some of the "business" items that might crop up. Ask: What would help make the group work together more smoothly? Do we have any group rules?  All the children should partake, too. This is critical because the meeting helps to make interpersonal issues group issues.  And, children are also more likely to live with rules they had a say in creating.  That holds true for adults too.  So, instead of trying to muster the courage to tell your brother he needs to get his kids to bed earlier, simply put "bedtime routines" on the meeting agenda.

Other agenda items might include:
  • Noise:  When are quiet hours in the villa? Decide on bedtimes, nap times and acceptable morning wake-up times.
  • Routines: What do we need to get done at the condo before heading out to the beach or pool each morning?
  • Clean-up:  Who is responsible for what? Assign jobs for such things as dishes, sand sweeping, table setting, meal preparation (and don't forget to involve the kids).
  • Group entertainment:  What's on everyone's wish list? Name the activities and post a calendar so everyone's needs get met.
  • Conflicts: How will disputes be resolved? What are the consequence for not listening to the rules.
2.  Calm Your "Hot Thoughts":
When you start to feel emotional about how things are going, tune into your self-talk - the little voice in your head that's providing a running commentary.  "My kids always act so badly in public," or, "I am a terrible mother," or, "My sister is still treated like the golden child." And let's not forget this one: "They never listen!"  That little gremlin in your head only sees the worst and it makes everything out to be a catastrophe.  Pay attention and catch yourself "awful-izing".  Instead of being a victim to negative self-talk, take charge.  Choose different thoughts! Replace self-blaming thoughts with "cool thoughts" like, "I am a humble human who makes mistakes just like everyone else," and, "I need to address my children's 'hearing problem' eventually, but for now I'm going to roll with it."  And here's the biggie: "I am not at my best right now, but I am good enough."

You can work on "thought swapping" in advance; if you know your hot thoughts, write them down and then, in a time of calm, rewrite your inner script.

I try to remind myself that while I can't change the situation, I can always change my attitude about the situation.  When things are not going well, I tell myself, "Hey, these are nice problems to have. I have a family that wants to be together and we are all alive and well."

3.  Eat. Sleep. Breathe:
As with all situational stresses, we do better when we are feeling good.  Be sure to get a full night's sleep, eat well (as well as you can, given that it's a vacation) and breathe.  Vast quantities of research are proving just how powerful and important deep breathing is for stress and overall health. It just reinforces that old adage about breathing and counting to 10.

Alyson Schafer is a psychotherapist and one of Canada's leading parenting experts. Alyson is the best-selling author of three parenting books: Breaking the Good Mom Myth, Honey, I Wrecked the Kids, and her latest, Ain't Misbehavin.   Alyson is the media's go-to person and speaks regularly on parenting issues involving kids of all ages.   For tips on discipline, bullying, sibling rivalry and other daily parenting issues, visit  Permission granted for use on

Posted by Staff at 7:04 AM