What Do You Mean Vacations Don't Make You Happier? A Case for the Family Summer Vacation

BlogHer Original Post

We’re a family-vacation-loving bunch. My husband and I take multiple trips during the summer with our two sons, as I did with my family when I was growing up. We just spent ten days doing the camping thing in mid-July and are preparing for our annual multi-generational family vacation to Emerald Isle, North Carolina at the end of August. We look forward to these trips all year, so when I heard that summer vacation won’t make you happier, I tried my hardest not to laugh out loud. But I failed.

I do agree that the return from vacation-land involves a bit of an emotional drop. It’s hard to get back into a routine with the kids. It’s hard to deal with the fact that the beach is not glimmering right outside our windows. It’s hard to get caught up on the sleep that we lost while staying up late exchanging old stories with family members or waking up early to catch the sunrise on the Atlantic. But the dip in mood soon passes, and life goes on.

What I don’t agree with is the pessimistic view of vacations in general. This article in Newsweek concentrated too hard on the things that can go wrong on vacation.

“For one thing, holiday trips are not 24/7 bliss. There are missed flight connections, disappointing hotels, bad food, and illness. Looking back on all that, once we’re back home, can understandably put a dent in our happiness.”

Or, you know, you could not be such a Negative Nancy about the fact that you just went on vacation, a thing not everyone is privy to on a regular basis.

Things do go wrong on vacation. Last year on our way home from the beach, we got stuck in a massive traffic jam at the bottle-neck of 77 near Wytheville, Virginia. (Why on Earth is that only one lane? Can’t anyone fix it? Before late August?) We got kind of grumpy. Earlier in the trip, I had an argument with my mother. But we worked it out, much like we eventually got through the traffic. When I think of last year’s vacation, those negatives aren’t what come to mind. Not at all.

I remember watching my youngest son dip his toes into the ocean for the very first time. I remember taking walks with my husband ... alone. I remember a meal that I made for the whole family that got rave reviews. I remember my husband buying me a pink fishing pole that lights up. I remember my oldest son giggling with glee as he jumped over the waves, his little beach shoes making that slopping-wet-beachy sound. I remember the smell. And the breeze. And the laughter. I could have focused on things gone wrong, but that’s not how my family rolls. Or vacations.

Vacation 2009

Another anti-summer-vacation argument recently covered in Time, is that the time off hurts kids’ progress in school. Perhaps. I understand that our family is privileged in the fact that we can make time and spend the money on these vacations. But our kids have earned their vacation time, as my husband and I have, by working hard at whatever they’re doing and learning during the year. Just because our oldest son isn’t actively in a classroom during the summer doesn’t mean that we’re not working with him on various aspects of his educational growth. But, to be honest, we don’t bring the workbooks on vacation. We might draw some letters in the sand, discuss why the sun “comes up earlier” at the beach (causing our oldest to rise earlier, too) or talk about tides, but we’re not doing science projects. Vacations are for relaxing (even if parents sometimes have to work during them). Kids deserve some relaxation, too.

So, while my kids may come out dumber and we may have a case of the Post-Vacation Grumpies come the first of September, we're still going on our family vacation. I'd be willing to bet money that we won't think, "Gee, I wish we would have spent that time drilling our sons on math." Or even, "I'm so upset we went on vacation and experienced all of those fun moments." Instead, I bet we'll be glad that we took the time for us, for our family.

Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom), from Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land, is a freelance writer and newspaper photographer.

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