Our Kid Planned Our Family Vacation.

Own It!

Why Putting Your Kids In Charge of Vacation Planning Might Be Your Best Idea Yet!

The worst family vacation I remember growing up was when I was 12. I was way too cool to hang out with my parents and three brothers for any length of time, and I dreaded being dragged across the country in my parent’s station wagon, fighting my brothers over who got the coveted “backwards” seat. My parents rode in the front seat, endlessly playing the same Neil Diamond tape again and again and again – Side A: “Coming to America.” Side B: “Song Sung Blue.” I still remember every single word.

My dad is a huge Civil War enthusiast, so on our trip to wherever we were going (no one, not even my parents, knew what our final destination would be) my dad pulled over at any and every Civil War historic site.

On this particular day, the temperature outside was 115 degrees – this was before cars had thermostats, but my memory tells me it was at least 115, or maybe even 140 degrees. We walked along a path, sat on some cannons, got our pictures taken on said cannons; I have the photo my dad took of me with my feathered blonde hair, purple and white Olivia Newton John work out short set, an orange soda in my hand and an incredibly irritated look on my face. My little brother was also in the photo, orange soda in his hand and with an incredibly goofy look on his face.

We ate Fritos with that orange soda and sat at a little picnic table at the Civil War battle site. I remember the snacks well because they remained on the side of our station wagon from that day until we sold the car many years later. Why? By some stroke of luck, I got the “backwards” seat after that excruciating stop. After we had been on the road for 10 minutes, Joel, who was sitting in the middle, looked at my older brothers Kevin and Mark and said, “I feel sick.” Both older brothers literally threw his head out the window and – you guessed it – he vomited up the Fritos and orange soda all over the wood paneled side of our family station wagon. The stain was etched in our memories, and literally on our paneling, for years to come.

Now we laugh about it. And laugh. And laugh some more. It’s the memory that stands out above all the others from past family vacations.

Twenty-five and some years later, my husband and I are the geeky parents in the front seat of the minivan rocking out to 80s music. Our kids are the ones sitting on random objects at historical parks with smirks and sarcastic faces.

But this summer, we are doing something very different for our family vacation.

Instead of enduring scowls and eye rolls with every decision Rob and I make for vacation, we decided to hand the planning over to the girls. Yep. The whole vacation. We gave them a map and a dollar amount. We drew a certain radius that they had to stay within, and then we walked away. (Anyone who has lived in Indiana for very long knows that no matter where you go from here, it’s always better, so I was not worried one bit.)

The girls did a stellar job. Within one weekend, they had chosen our destination, how much money we needed to save and what activities were available once we got there. They showed us the website, and by the end of the weekend, we had a signed contract with a rental home 16 hours from our house in good old Indiana.

Aside from mercilessly screaming on Christmas morning when they were 7,6, and 3 when we told them we were going to Disneyworld, this is the most excited they have ever been for a family vacation. Why? Because it was “their” idea.

If there is anything I have learned about having children, it’s that they love what they own. If it wastheir idea, it’s the best idea. If it is their finger painting, it is the best finger painting. We give our kids as much ownership as possible. When they ask if they need a jacket for school, we have always asked them to go outside and decide for themselves. These little choices we make them decide on day to day is helping to build their own character and self-esteem. We let them plan their own birthday parties, schedule play-dates, etc. You’d think these freedoms would turn our children into greedy monsters, but it has done the exact opposite. When they plan the party, they own the party. When they decorate their room in eleven shades of purple and green, they love and adore it because they own it.

Planning an entire vacation is a pretty big step, but here are some ideas to ensure your kids feel like they are in on the deal, and they are not just at the whim of every Neil Diamond tape-playing parent with a station wagon:

Start Small. Let your children plan a family outing if you have a day together. If you have children of multiple ages, let each choose one thing to do.

Start Simple. Transferring responsibility for decisions does not have to be a major event. It can be as simple as asking the youngest child what he or she would like the family to have for dessert and then following through to the best of your ability.

Give more as they grow. Once a child has earned your trust, and the trust of their siblings, allow them to spread their wings further. Allow them to not only choose the dessert, but to make it for the entire family.

The very wise Peter Parker aka Spiderman once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We don’t give our children “Power without responsibility.” Being a contributing part of a family is hard work.

At the end of the summer, I hope to report back and say, “It was the best vacation we ever had. Our kids will forevermore plan every vacation from now until the end of time.” But I doubt I’ll say it. Someone will eat Fritos and orange soda and throw up on our minivan, or worse yet, on a sister. Someone will get bit by a thousand hungry mosquitoes. Someone else will poke her sister to death because it’s the sixteenth hour in the car and she just can’t take one more 80s rock song coming from the front of the car.

But, they will own it, and they will glow in the light of a good choice they made that their parent’s respected and honored. And somehow building that strength of character and confidence in our girls will be worth every single blip along the way.

This article appears in the August 2012 issue of The Family Magazine of Michiana

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