Bruce Feiler: Everything I learned about families suggests to me that there are three large themes that happy families have in common. They adapt all the time. They have a way to change depending on what’s going on around you at any given time. Number two, they talk a lot. They don’t just have difficult conversations. They talk about what it means to be part of a family. And number three, they go out and play. This seems the most obvious but actually it’s difficult.
So let’s just talk about family travel. This is incredibly important but yet a huge source of stress. So I did a number of things to actually improve family vacations.
One, we created a family vacation checklist. It’s modeled on the one hospitals now use or airplane pilots. It’s one hour, one day and one week before we travel. Everybody gets responsibilities. Even the kids can supervise the parents to make sure that we don’t end up without the special sports equipment or without the stuffed animal or something that we’re gonna be fighting about when we get there.
I think one of the biggest traps that parents fall into is when you hit a high stress moment, you seize control back because that’s the natural thing to do. So let’s just say you’re trying to get to the airport or you’re trying to go to grandma’s house and everybody’s late. Suddenly you’re yelling. Suddenly you have this list in your head of things that you have to do that you haven’t shared with people. The truth is if you are in a high stress situation like trying to get out the door, you want to give your kids more responsibility.
We made this checklist in our family. It was working but it wasn’t really working until we said to our kids, even when they were six, “Okay, you’re now in charge of the checklist. So this gives you something to do. 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. It’s a larger lesson that I learned from this process which is you want to – don’t keep power as parents. You want to empower 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 also in the solution.