One of the many joys of parenthood and family life for my husband and me is taking vacations. From the time that our first child was just an infant we have always tried to do some kind of getaway every year. Our family is bigger now, with a middle schooler, 3rd grader and a preschooler, but still we try to make vacations a part of our annual budget.
Sometimes those trips are low key (we love a quick drive to Orange Beach) and sometimes they are bigger and more planned out (we are currently planning our fifth Disney trip). But the one thing they all have in common is that we don’t bring friends on vacation.
I’m sure many of you reading take a different approach and have allowed your children to take a friend so that they could have someone their age to hang out with. Kids, particularly teens love to have a buddy. But I’d like to present a different way of thinking about vacation that might explain why we don’t do it.
First and foremost, the reason we don’t bring friends on vacation is that we see vacation as a time for building upon the relationships within our family. Yes, vacation serves the purpose of simply having fun and unwinding. But it also offers a unique opportunity to reinforce bonds with your children and to reconnect.
Connecting with kids can be very difficult, especially in the fast-paced, busy atmosphere in which most of us live. Day to day and week to week, we have our routines and responsibilities that we tackle. While we strive to connect in the midst of that, sometimes that connection can become more of a series of surface-level interactions with little opportunity for deeper bonding.
But on vacation, we are together for several days at a time and in an atmosphere that is more laid back. Having that alone time with your kids can sometimes spontaneously result into them actually talking to you! About serious and meaningful things! Our stresses are few and our guards are down and that allows for better conversation and emotional connection.
There’s a psychological benefit as well. The fact that all of this happens within the context of fun sends a message to their young brains that connection with mom and dad is associated with happy feelings. This lays the groundwork for better bonding all year long. However, when kids have a friend on board, they tend to direct all of their attention there, potentially missing out on that parent-child bonding opportunity.
Another reason we keep it family-only is that we want our kids to connect with each other! In families where there is more than one child, sibling bonding is important as well. Our siblings are some of our most important relationships for a couple of reasons. One, our siblings are our first peers and are where we learn (through much trial and error) how to do peer relationships. And two, our siblings are the only people who will truly understand the experience of our upbringing, having experienced it themselves.
By not bringing friends on vacation, we are encouraging our children to interact with each other. When my son is playing football on the beach, it is his brother who is catching the ball. When my daughter squeals in laughter on a thrill ride, she grabs the hands of her brothers who are sharing the seat with her. Those moments are priceless in reinforcing their bond. That bond is something that gives me great comfort that should something happen to me or their dad, they will always have each other.
A third reason is that when it’s just family, we can really be ourselves! We don’t have to worry about what we say or what that other child is thinking. If someone is in their underwear in the morning or if we have to actually correct our kids, everything is still ok … no embarrassed kids. Mom and Dad are more ourselves, which makes stress levels lower. There is just a level of comfort that comes with being “just family” that I don’t think you can truly get anywhere else. And again, I think that level of comfort makes for better bonding.
As an adult, my memories of family vacations are truly the best memories of my childhood. My dad had a stressful and public job and couldn’t always fully relax when we were at home. But on vacation, my dad could truly just be himself and we were able to connect in a way that still benefits us today. My siblings and I, now all adults, still laugh when we recount the memories of Dad repeatedly falling off a jet ski in Missouri or my grandpa thinking we were going to fall off of the side of the Ozark Mountains in Tennessee. I know I would have missed out priceless memories with my family had I had a friend on vacation because I would have been focused on my friend and the image I presented in front of them.
So as you plan your next vacation, consider going with just family. Even if it isn’t something you want to do every time, try to reserve some trips as family-only. I promise you will experience an increased level of bonding that will really serve to benefit your family long-term.