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Should We Incur Debt for a Family Vacation?

October 27, 2016 | by Emuna Braverman

My husband wants to plan a big family trip that we can’t afford. He thinks it’s important; I don’t.

Dear Emuna,

My husband and I are having a debate and we’d like you to resolve it for us. Money is tight and we basically live hand to mouth with very few extras. He wants to plan a big summer vacation (he thinks if we start now we’ll be able to get some good deals), since some of our kids are in high school and we don’t know how much longer they will want to or be able to come along. I don’t want to go into debt for it. He thinks it’s important for our family. I think we are fine without it. What should we do?

Seeking Advice

Dear Seeking,

I don’t think I can resolve your issue for you. I can only tell you from personal experience that family trips create long-lasting memories. All the fights and struggles are forgotten (all those moments when you threatened to turn around the car and go home and they knew perfectly well you didn’t mean it!) and warm memories and feelings linger for years after. Especially now since you can create a shutterfly or snapfish book with all your photos!

I don’t know if it’s your last chance – I found that some of our teenagers did not want to come but everyone, including marrieds and grandkids wanted to come last summer – but it definitely is an opportunity that may not come again. Lives get more complicated, as do travel schedules. My instinct would be to go for the trip; if you really can’t afford it, then there’s no choice but it sounds like you could make it work – with some struggle. I think it’s worth it.

I always tell people that at the end of your life, you won’t think I wish I had that extra $500 or even $5000 dollars but you may think that you wish you’d spent more time with your family, particularly more relaxed time away from chores and bills and homework and laundry. My only caveat would be that if you decide to do it, you must be all the way in; you can’t spend the whole vacation agonizing about the money spent and warning everyone away from activities that cost money (although frequently a day by the water or somewhere beautiful is free) and restricting their food intake! Go and enjoy. It will keep you warm for years to come.

Dear Emuna,

My daughter is a freshman at a prestigious college and, while we are excited about her learning and career prospects, we are concerned that every communication with her involves the word “stress”. “I’m so stressed” “I can’t sleep because I’m stressed” “Everyone here is stressed” etc. etc. I’m not sure how to deal with this. Should I send her to the mental health clinic? Should I offer empathy and compassion? Should I tell her to get over it? Please help.

Freshman Parent

Dear Freshman Parent,

I think that what you are experiencing is very normal – but (and this is a big but) you need to know your child. Sometimes stress is just stress and sometimes it’s a call for help and sometimes it’s manageable and sometimes it isn’t. If it is really overwhelming her, then I would encourage her to visit the school clinic. I’m sure it’s one of the most common issues they deal with and they are in a better position to evaluate how severe her situation is.

I would also remind her that it’s very normal. Everyone is feeling it – whether they are honest enough to post in on their Facebook page or not! The stress is heightened by her attendance at a prestigious college. The pressure is greater and many freshmen report feeling out of their depth. Being valedictorian in high school is often not adequate preparation for the big leagues.

The other response you can offer (after providing empathy and understanding) is that she will actually relax (irony of ironies) if she learns to accept her stress. For insomniacs, it’s not just the inability to sleep that’s frustrating; it’s imagining how tired and dysfunctional you will be the next day. When you just accept that you will be tired (a thought process honed after many sleepless nights with small children!) you remove one whole layer of emotional distress. I may be tired but I don’t have to be anxious about being tired as well! You can teach your daughter that yes, she may be stressed and that may even be a normal reaction so therefore there is no need to “stress about being stressed”!! Believe it or not, that really helps.

As I said earlier, you should not rule out some psychological help and since you are presumably far way, perhaps you should encourage it. Better safe than sorry. Lastly, never underestimate the power of prayer to relax and reassure – both you and her!

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