A year ago, I had just returned home from a week of enjoying my daughter’s college graduation and some much-needed R & R. Truly, life is short. Was it only yesterday that she was a three-year-old waltzing around, carrying lots of purses, and wearing her mom’s high heels?
But as our family gathered for her graduation and I began thinking about that week, it made me reflect on some principles I tried to apply to our family vacations and trips. I didn’t perfectly follow them and we certainly had our share of family meltdowns. But maybe you will find these principles helpful.
1. Remember a vacation and a family trip are two different things. I can’t remember where I heard this but it is key to managing my expectations. When you are taking young children along you are not going on vacation; you are going on a family trip. If I have expectations of complete rest on a trip with children I will become upset and angry. No, a family trip requires lots of service on my part. I may have moments of vacation. Or maybe my wife and I will take some time off later. But when the children are young, family trips require lots of work on my part.
2. Family Trips are a powerful opportunity to build family identity and family memories. For many years, we drove our young children down to Alabama to visit their grandparents. That 22-hour, 2 day trip was exhausting. In the days before DVDs, we had to strategize about keeping them occupied (book time, game time, story time, etc). But when we talk about those trips now, our children have fond memories. Why? Our family was together having fun. That time in the car, even with the diaper explosions, was a great help in building family identity.
We are not just six individuals living under the same roof. The Lord has put us together as a family. Time away can help reinforce this truth.
3. Family Trips offer everyone a chance to develop a heart of service. To paraphrase Augustine, sin causes us to curve in on ourselves. And family trips magnify that curve. However, the unique challenges also give us a chance to grow in serving others. In addition, it is a chance to train our children in service as well. Older children can help with younger children. Everyone can help serve mom (or dad). We all can show honor to our grandparents. The natural self-centeredness I feel, my children feel also. We will need to fight that by the power of the Spirit.
4. Family Trips offer a chance to learn about the larger body of Christ. We tried to make it a habit to go to church on Sunday. Visiting churches in different parts of the country exposed our children to other believers. Did they complain sometimes? Of course. But it gave them a richer perspective and was teaching our own values without trying.
5. Family trips need margin to succeed. How many times did I have to learn this the hard way? The bigger the ship, the more margin it takes. Something always goes wrong. I need to remember that I love my family by making sure we have plenty of margin. In addition to planning activities, unhurried conversations with my children were also valuable. And those only happened because we had margin.
6. Family trips give us a chance to express praise and thankfulness. No matter where we go or don’t go, having time off is an expression of God’s kindness. There are plenty of impoverished families around the world who cannot even think of taking time off. So no matter what goes wrong (and it will) my heart of praise and thankfulness is key. Family times together give us a chance to praise our Creator for his creation. And they give us a chance to deliberately express thankfulness for each in the family.
Family trips are not a break from discipleship. Rather, they are another God-given opportunity to love on your own family and develop your own Christlikeness. To coin a phrase – Don’t waste your family trip!