I don't have a big vacation planned this summer. Don't feel sorry for me... I am going to Germany for a week in October and on Friday I leave for my second weekend at the beach. I have recently been reading about what makes a vacation "restorative". There is some cool research for adults and in this blog I am going to muse about how it might apply to families.
Unfortunately, most of the positive benefits of vacation are gone within a month of returning home. As an adult, there are 4 types of experiences to seek if you want to make sure you extend that vacation glow: relaxation, control, mastery, and mental detachment from work. Now let's see how this might apply to your family vacation...
Most of us think about relaxation as a key component of a vacation so you are probably used to thinking through how each family member might have different needs in this area.
The scene is your family beach vacation. You relax by sitting on the beach and reading a good book. Your 5 year old can't stand it when the sand touches his body and is most relaxed swimming in the pool... golf for your wife and your teenager needs other teens to hang around to feel relaxed.
Hmmm... control, huh? This means having the ability to decide how you spend your time. (And I think one of the main reasons people say a vacation with extended family doesn't really count.) That doesn't mean that your 5 year old gets to stay in the pool all day every day, but it might mean that he does need to get to decide how to spend part of his days. Some families handle this by taking turns having each member decide on an activity for the day (or half day).
When we engage in interesting things that we do well we experience both challenge and the restorative effects of "being in the flow" (you know, when you get so absorbed in something that time stands still). Swimming might create that "flow" sensation for your 5 year old... his body is engaged in an activity that he is newly good at and it is very psychologically rewarding. This is especially important when he has the uncertainly of starting Kindergarten in 3 weeks. When adults work in jobs where there is a high degree of uncertainty, mastery in their leisure time is critical for their well being. It only makes sense that the same would be true for children.
Mental Detachment from Work:
As adults we know what this means even if we don't do it. But what about your teenager. Their work is school. It might make you feel better if they get their summer reading done or finish those college essays BUT based on this research I encourage you to resist the urge to make them work on their vacation.
If you or members of your family are experiencing high levels of stress at work (or school), consider experimenting with shorter (think 4 day weekend) and more frequent vacations. Giving your family a chance to experience the benefits of vacation on a routine basis (every other month, maybe?) could be a game changer.
I think I will take a half day on Friday and go ahead and get down to the beach in time to go for a long walk and a dip in the ocean before dinner. Rather than bring that work-related book to read, I am going to find a good mystery novel. Maybe I will even see if I can find an early morning yoga class. I love catching a good sunrise over the ocean.