A recent news story, Why time off is time well spent for your health, emphasized the health benefits of a frequent, restful vacations. The story reminded me of this section of my book God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Child. I hope you’ll enjoy and apply this information:
Like family traditions, family vacations have the potential not only to be healthy but also to be harmful to your child.
I practiced family medicine in Kissimmee, Florida, for more than sixteen years. During that time, I cared for countless families whose vacations were highly unhealthy.
Vacations tended to become unhealthy when families
• spent money they didn’t have;
• tried to do too many things in too little time—leading them to become stressed-out, which reduced their immunity to anger, distress, and dis- appointment (on the emotional and relational wheels) and to infec- tions (on the physical wheel); and
• planned every second of their vacations so they never had a few moments to relax and enjoy each other’s company—seemingly forgetting how easily children get tired and how quickly tired children get fussy and irritate their parents.
When these things happen, guess what? The hoped-for fun family vacation turns into a disaster.
In contrast, healthy family vacations are relaxing and promote family togetherness, not family strife.
An ideal family vacation reduces stress—that great robber of family health—and allows children and parents to relax together.
Quality family vacations actually require less planning and more spontaneity and are designed for parents and their children.
Here are a few tips Barb and I have learned to apply when planning our vacation time:
• We never took a vacation we couldn’t afford. It’s always less stressful to plan a shorter, less luxurious family vacation than to have the stress of being in debt for months or years. Camping is an excellent low-cost family vacation that children love. (If this isn’t your idea of fun, visit- ing a state or national park can be relaxing and inexpensive. Many parks rent inexpensive campers, tents, or cabins that can be fun to stay in.)
• Pick a relaxing spot. For us this was Barb’s family beach house on the Florida panhandle. For decades, we have enjoyed a few days with no television, no radio, and no phone.
• Before the vacation started, Barb, Kate, Scott, and I would spend time discussing activities we would and would not do on the trip. By including Kate and Scott in the planning, we emphasized that this was their vacation, too.
• Don’t plan every second of a vacation. My tendency was to pack our time with activities, but Barb wisely refused to let me do this. Yes, transportation and hotels should usually be planned ahead. Visiting some venues or events requires advance planning, but we tried to make the rest of a family vacation laid-back, casual, and spontaneous.
• Last, but not least, give yourself plenty of time to get home and prepare for work or school without a stressful rush. If you plan to return home with no margin for a flight delay or car breakdown, you may end your vacation more stressed-out than when you began.
Barb insisted that we leave at least one day at the end of our vacation for sleeping in, unpacking, resting, and enjoying our children at home before returning to work. This day at home usually turned out to be one of our best vacation days!
Paul Batura, who capably handled the many research duties for this book, tells the following story of his family vacations. He graciously allowed me to share it with you:
As the youngest of five children, it is very easy for me to recall many memorable family vacations. We always assumed that every family routinely packed the station wagon, loaded the cooler, and headed to the ocean or the mountains for two weeks of unscripted fun.
Of course, our assumptions were incorrect. Although many families routinely take peaceful vacations, just as many—if not more— do not.
The reasons are many, but a popular and practical excuse relates to the financial burden of two weeks on the road.
Given that reality, I once asked my dad how, given his modest income and growing family, he could afford the yearly trips that were, for our family, as steady as the sunrise. His answer floored me.
“Well,” he said, “I was fortunate enough to work for a generous company that gave all employees yearly stock options. They would grant the options at Christmas, and just before the summer I would exercise them. That profit became our yearly vacation money.”
I didn’t realize how significant this sacrifice was until I was speaking with a group of my dad’s former coworkers at his retirement party. Many of them had strategically held on to their options and exercised them much later in life.
Because they waited to exercise their options, they had condos on golf courses and memberships in country clubs, and they took regular vacations to faraway places. They reaped wonderful rewards for holding on to their investments.
My dad? He had none of these things. He retired in the same house we grew up in, settled in with his wife of forty-seven years, and lives on a modest but sufficient fixed income that by no means rivals that of his former coworkers.
Who made the wiser investment?
I’ll let you decide. But the five children in our family have priceless memories of summertime fun.
We have shared enough laughs to last a lifetime.
Each of us knows what it means to have a highly healthy and enjoyable childhood. Not one of us would discount the dividends of our dad’s investment.