It is common knowledge that stress is a killer. When you are stressed, your body does not function properly, making you more prone to illness; your mind is over-worked and thus leads to making rash decisions; and you are simply not 100% there. Stress can ruin you, in every possible way. Fortunately there is a solution to combat this stressful predator – a break from everyday life and day-to-day routine, which provides a much needed rest for mind, body and soul. That is all well and good; I can hear you say, but what about the kids? True – what about the kids? Should holidays be child-free? Do parents deserve a break more than the children do? Would bringing the kids along actually increase stress levels? We sat down for a chat with Elaine Grech a therapist specialising in Family Issues, to get more insight about the love/hate relationship of the Family Holiday.
What constitutes a pleasant family holiday, in your opinion?
E.G.: I think that the families who manage to enjoy holidays the most are the ones who find a way of getting along, who manage to resolve the conflicts that they might have and which might arise, and who feel that their needs are being taken care of and catered for. Taking into consideration each family member’s needs during the planning of the holiday will ensure that there is something to please everyone, and thus the holiday is more pleasurable for all.
What psychological benefits can a family enjoy when going on a family holiday?
E.G.: When people look back on their childhood, they do not recollect material things; it is the memories which stand out mostly. These memories may be of the simplest things, such as going to the beach or cooking a pie together as a family, however it is these memories which stick the most through adulthood. By going on a family holiday, parents and children have time to dedicate for each other, without any external distractions such as work. Thus they create new, bonding memories, and manage to get involved in new experiences together as a family. The time invested in the family is beneficial to the whole household.
How does the holiday affect the psychological well-being of the parents, and of the children in the end?
E.G.: This is dependent on whose needs are being catered for during the holiday. As an example, in a family of two caregivers, where one lounges around and does nothing while the other takes care of the children and other chores, there will be no balance and this will create unhappiness in the whole family unit. If both caregivers support each other and help each other in their daily chores, then there is going to be a shared happiness between them and also with the children. The whole family has to work together as one team, including the children as well, thus giving them an idea of what it means to be a loving unit. It is also a good idea to include the children in choice-making, for example, giving them a choice between two parks, and letting them decide which one they prefer. This creates a sense of independence and also of importance in the children, instead of always tagging around wherever their caregivers choose to take them.
Does the holiday necessarily always have to be child oriented or are there particular ages when planning a holiday around the child’s needs is a must?
E.G.: There are different types of holidays. If the holiday is a family holiday, then yes, it is very important to include the children in the planning process, choose destinations which are child friendly, and choose child-friendly activities as much as possible. Bear in mind that the things you enjoy doing single, or with other adults – such as going to museums, art galleries, concerts – may not be enjoyable for the child as well. However, there can be instances where your needs and your child’s needs meet – for example I once went to a castle in Scotland; I loved it because of the medieval history and the children loved it because they could run around in the huge garden. You have to be flexible when travelling with children and keep in mind that activities which are constricted by time may not be suitable for them, as it adds extra pressure. Plan one activity a day, and be flexible as much as you can. Remember that is your child is frustrated and angry, you will probably end up this way too.
What kind of precautions should be taken by parents to ensure the best possible vacation for all family members?
E.G.: The best way is to plan ahead and make sure that the children are properly entertained, especially while travelling by airplane or by train, so that they do not get frustrated from boredom. I have had some families which some traumatised from a family holiday, after horrifying long journeys with kids in the car or the plane. Planning ahead is the key. Pack some activities they love, and let them pack a bag each (as long as what they pack abides by travelling regulations). I give each of my children a travelling bag which they can then fill with any favourite toys and activities they want, so that they don’t get bored. This gives them responsibility as well; as they make sure they are bringing what is most important to them.
Family relationships can be even put on strain since the holiday will deviate from the normal routine of everyday life. How can one compensate for this, especially with regards to children?
E.G.: Reflect and set out the expectations for the holiday beforehand. For example, in a traditional family setting with a working father and stay at home mother – would the father spend the whole day doing nothing while on holiday since he does not have to work, while the mother carries on with her daily routine of taking care of the children, cooking, cleaning – these roles should be shared during a holiday environment, as the routine is somewhat changed. The sleeping pattern of the children is also another thing to bear in mind when planning a holiday, since there are no school days. The planning of this has to be thought of beforehand, also with regards to travelling time.
How often is it recommended to go on family holidays?
E.G.: This obviously depends on the financial situation of the family, a family who manages to take regular family holidays is truly blessed, as these offer new experiences and broaden the horizons of all the members of the family, especially the children. Unfortunately not all families can afford a family holiday, however even a local trip can benefit the family as a whole. It has to be made sure that in order to take a holiday the other family’s needs are not put under strain. However, money spent on holidays is invested in memories, and never goes to waste. Holidays can be educational and are mind-opening to the children.
Do psychological benefits increase when travelling with extended family members (grandparents, aunts, uncles), or should family trips be kept to the immediate family members (parents, children)?
E.G.: It depends on the type of relationship there is between these family members, so it varies from family to family. In our culture in Malta, it is quite common to be connected to our extended family, so being on holiday with them can work out as long as the family members get along well. One must see that all the family members share and uphold the same core values, as sharing a home with someone who holds different values from you could be difficult. However, as long as differences can be respected and boundaries are set, a family holiday with the extended family can be a very beneficial experience.