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Three Keys for Low-Stress Family Vacations

December 28, 2013, 12:00 AM

In Death of a Salesman, Biff Loman (Willy's eldest son) describes his "measly manner of existence" as follows:

To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors with your shirt off.

This unhealthy view about the payoff between work and personal time is embedded in the American psyche. If work doesn't provide any fulfillment, people develop unrealistic expectations about their time off. Work-life balance is a huge issue to tackle. Today we are focusing on just one part. It's vacation time. You've earned it. So how about trying to actually enjoy it?

Unfortunately, family vacations can often be an intense time of stress when the ostensible purpose is to relax and recharge. While it is futile to think you can get rid of stress altogether, Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families, offers some helpful tips on how to manage and reduce stress. 

In a workshop on Big Think Mentor, Feiler outlines three themes that happy families have in common.  

1. They adapt
"They have a way to change depending on what’s going on around them at any given time."

2. They talk a lot
"They don’t just have difficult conversations.  They talk about what it means to be part of a family."

3. They go out and play
"This seems the most obvious but actually it’s difficult."

So what are some of the tools that can be used to create these healthy habits? Feiler recommends one tool in particular that is derived from his broader lesson.

Make a checklist. As a parent, of course, you already have that checklist in your head. It includes things like special sports equipment and stuffed animals. If these items are forgotten, vacation hell is likely to ensure. Rather than stress about everything on this checklist, Feiler recommends distributing the responsibilities. 

He explains:

Rather than sitting back watching mom and dad scurry and scream you’re actually sharing responsibility. You have to count the luggage when we get to the train station, when we get onto the train, when we get off.

This advice is part of Feiler's larger lesson about empowering your children: "Let your kids get involved running the system because if one person messes up it affects everybody and you have to get everybody involved in the solution." When this system is working well, even the kids can supervise the parents, Feiler says.

So what about when the system doesn't work and the stuffed animal has been left behind?

Feiler says that one of the biggest mistakes parents make when they hit a high stress moment is to "seize control back." What you want to do is the opposite. "Give up control during moments of stress," Feiler says. This is when you need to offload responsibility to your children in order to keep everyone involved.

Sign up for a free trial on Big Think Mentor and watch the video here:

Big Think Mentor connects world-class mentors like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Maria Konnikova, and Tim Ferriss with a global community of smart, driven users to teach the habits of mind and people skills we all need to live happier, healthier, more productive lives. 

Subscribed users get instant access to the specific skills you need to learn right now, easily searchable by the problem you're trying to solve, the goal you're trying to achieve, or the area of life in which you need help. 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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