10 Tips for Jewish Families to Get Along on Their Summer Vacations
Going on a family vacation this summer? If you want your children to still love you when you return, read this.
Summer’s here and it’s stressful enough for a single person to plan and go on a vacation. Now, imagine two people going on one. Ramp up the stress with an entire family going on one. Max out the stress with a Jewish family going on one. At that point, you’ll be ready for a vacation when you return from your vacation. But don’t despair. Here are 10 tips for Jewish families to get along on their summer vacation. Let me know how it goes. I wish you all the luck in the world, with a cherry on top. Oh, what the heck—make it a cherry blintz.
1. Give kids plenty of warning about travel and upcoming events
It’s traumatic enough for kids to spend time with their parents. So, if you’re going to compound it by uprooting them from their comfort zones and taking them hostage to foreign places, or even domestic ones, the least you can do is give them plenty of advance notice. Tell them as soon as they are born. When they get older, you can make a little book to show them what will be happening each day. (“Then, we’ll take a 150-mile detour because your father just has to take a photo of the World’s Largest Bagel sculpture, in Green River, Wyoming.”)
2. Coach your kids about the social behavior you expect
If you can tear them away from their electronic games and smartphones, role play with them in the car on the way there. Make it fun.
“In the hotel hallways, we use our inside voices and don’t run. Otherwise, you will be arrested and jailed. And cute kids like you wouldn’t last two days in jail.”
“What do you do if you don’t like the dinner that’s served? Exactly. You don’t make a scene or spoil dinner for everyone else. You simply summon the waitress and whisper to her, ‘Excuse me, you call this brisket?’”
“What will you do if your Aunt and Uncle start arguing? Yes, suggest counseling or an intervention.”
Are your kids hyperactive? If not, this vacation could make them so. And then you’d have to live with the guilt. And don’t you already have enough about which to feel guilty? It’s important to provide your kids with downtime just to chill out, snuggle, and relax, especially during an action-packed, hectic vacation. If they don’t get any downtime, you can’t really blame them from melting down from over-stimulation. Think of what your child does at home to relax. Draw? Read? Indulge in a hobby? Attempt to hypnotize his hamster? Play with her imaginary friend, Bernice? (Just guessing). Make sure every vacation day also includes a bit of downtime with your child’s favorite activity to help him regroup. Unless, of course, your child’s imaginary friend is Satan, in which case there are deeper challenges at work.
4. Recharge and reconnect with your family
Cherish this as an opportunity to recharge and reconnect with your family. And by “recharge”, I don’t mean plugging in electronic devices that will steal your focus from your family, or theirs from you. So, don’t bring work along; focus on your family. After all, they’re the reason you spend the rest of the year working, right? Hello? And don’t over-plan or over-organize. Let the evenings just happen, even if it means staying in and playing board games. And don’t try to send a message to a friend saying, “Help, I’m stuck playing board games with my kids!” It’ll just come back to haunt you when they read your text messages when you aren’t looking.
5. Soothing activities for little ones
Sand play – Bury mommy or daddy in the sand. Important, do not do this when mommy or daddy is asleep. But if you do, be sure to add a little makeshift flag to indicate where the head is, and perhaps a breathing hole or two.
Water play – Fill up a bucket with water, add some sponges, and turn them loose on your car. This not only offers them oodles of fun, but saves you money on something you ordinarily pay for. If this goes well, you can have them do your laundry, prepare dinner and paint the house.
Bubbles. All kids love bubbles. (If they don’t, take them to a therapist). You can easily make your own bubble mix (Add 3 tbsp. of Glycerin and 2/3 cup of dish soap – Joy & Dawn are best – to a gallon of water.) Any twig with a loop of yarn can be used as a bubble wand. The kids can then, of course, spend the rest of the day, annoying your dog, or any pet in the vicinity, with the bubbles.
Clay – If you're in a rented space on vacation, limit clay to a tray, pan, or outside. But clay, Sculpey or Playdoh is a wonderful, tactile way for kids to knead and pound out the stresses that inevitably accompany all new experiences. Be aware, however, of exactly what they are sculpting. If it’s a figurine of little Billy horsewhipping daddy, there may be some issues to discuss.
6. Make sure you have nightly quiet time after lights out ...
to lie with your child and listen to her chat about the day. Don’t fall asleep before she does. But if you do, check your wallet in the morning. Ask about their favorite thing today, the worst thing, what they're looking forward to tomorrow, and what nasty gags they’re threatening to pull on their teachers and fellow students. Finally, if you’re going to entertain them with hand-shadows, for the love of God, don’t make them of Freddy Krueger from “Nightmare on Elm Street.” At least not ‘til they’re ten.
7. Keep kids on their usual schedule as much as possible.
Kids need the security of familiar routines. They’re stressed by unfamiliar events and what feels to them like chaotic unpredictability. And once they get stressed out, they can, as you well know, make your life a living hell. You’ll feel like returning them to the hospital, but know this: children are not returnable, especially after the age of five. So, just chill. By the age of ten they’ll no doubt relax and be able to adjust to just about anything without making their parents suicidal. So, do what you can to keep them on schedule and be patient when they get hyped-up or irritable. That’s why God created wine.
8. Have age-appropriate expectations.
A five year old can’t be expected to sit quietly while you enjoy an evening at the opera—except for Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, which five year olds just love. If you’re doing a lot of visiting with adults, be sure the kids have something to occupy them. Perhaps give them a fun project, such as adjusting your carburetor or balancing your car’s wheels. If they can read, buy them a new book for the occasion, one they can’t wait to get into, such as Other Better Families You Could Have Been Born Into. If they’re too young to stay absorbed in a book, bring a DVD, but not one that will give them nightmares, such as How to Survive a Mugging on Sesame Street. Even if you usually have dinner as a family, vacations are a great time to feed kids early so adults can enjoy a chance to talk at dinner. Remember, you need to recharge your own batteries, too!
9. Time with you.
Your kids may be chasing the older cousins, but they still want, and need, time with you. Yes, even if you have no other friends, chances are at least your kids like you. This is a perfect opportunity to turn off your cell phone and see what an inspired parent you are when you have a chance to relax and revel in just being alive. You remember what that was like, before Facebook, Comedy Central, and 24 Hour Fitness. Just want to lie under the umbrella with your Fig Newtons and Imagine Life Without Children magazine? Make that your reward after you spend five minutes in the water with your child. You'll be amazed how much more alive – and connected to your child – you feel after a five minute water fight. Unless your child drowns you; in which case, again, there may be other interpersonal issues at work. But still, you could turn even that around by coming back to play with him or her as a ghost. See how both life and death can work out?
10. The most important tip, as always in parenting, is to manage yourself so you can stay calm.
Remember that traveling can be stressful for everyone, but your kids depend on you not only to regulate their environment, but also to help them regulate their moods. Yes, they are needy. But it will all pay off for you once they choose and pay for your old age home. Guess what kind of one they’ll dump you in if you’re not nice to them now. So, why not take this vacation opportunity to both have fun with your kids and trade off child care responsibilities with other adults, if possible, so you get a chance to replenish your own spirits. Just limit how many of those spirits you’re using to replenish yourself. You're never too old to have a summer vacation you'll always remember. And if you can’t, your kids will remind you when they come to visit at the nice or not so nice retirement community.