A weekend trip to a cute, seaside town could almost be described as idyllic for Tim* and Heather*. Who doesn’t want a chance to get away from the daily grind of life and finally enjoy some much-needed relaxation? 

Unfortunately, neither Tim nor Heather are much looking forward to their vacation. 

Down the hall from their hotel room, Heather’s parents will be in another room, her brother’s family in yet another and her sister’s family in one more.

It’s a family vacation! But how will Heather get through it as the middle-person between her family and her husband? How will Tim be able to relax when every activity – from breakfast and sight-seeing to dinner and watching the sun set – is a group activity?  

If you and your spouse are facing a similar predicament, here are five things for you to remember to make the most of your extended family vacation. 

Set boundaries and manage expectations beforehand

In order to avoid emotionally charged responses in the midst of a family vacation, Focus on the Family Canada counsellor Karin Gregory encourages people to be responsive, not reactive. And this requires preparation. 

First, you and your spouse need to discuss what you want out of the vacation beforehand. Be prepared to make compromises, of course, but also be prepared to ask for what you want. If that’s lunch alone, away from the family, make that clear at the planning stages of your trip. If it’s ample time to wake up in the morning without a 6 a.m. itinerary bearing down on you, talk about that with your spouse. Remember: when it comes to presenting your plan, it’s up to the adult, married child to set the boundaries. 

Tim can’t be the one telling his in-laws he doesn’t want to spend time with them 24/7. It’s up to Heather to set these boundaries and manage everyone’s expectations. 

“Begin your own traditions while respecting theirs. Holidays offer great potential for hurt,” Lois Walfrid Johnson explains. A mother-in-law three times over, Lois is well-acquainted with the art of in-law relationships. “Before emotions get bruised, seek a compromise that seems fair to both families.” 

Be gracious and accommodating

“No matter how hard you try, you may never reach the place where your in-law relationships are ideal,” Johnson writes. “Though you’ve done your best, you may need to remember God’s magnificent grace. Because He accepts all of us as we are, you can offer that same gift to others.”

This involves a great deal of forgiveness, letting go of unrealistic expectations and extending a welcoming hand to your in-laws. As a mother-in-law, Johnson says she it’s so important to help your in-laws feel wanted. Whether you’re the parent or the child, setting an example of flexibility, grace and kindness can make all the difference. 

In the midst of vacation chaos, it can be easy to forget the Golden Rule. Remembering to treat everyone the way you would like to be treated can ease a lot of the stress that comes with these kinds of trips. 

Have a healthy perspective

As Melissa* and Jack* began their week-long vacation with his parents, his siblings and a collection of kids – all in one cabin – they knew it wouldn’t be relaxing. 

Sometimes it can be freeing to stop thinking about your extended family vacation as a vacation. It might be a bit of a chore. It might be exhausting. It might be frustrating and there may be many times where you have to hold your tongue. But ultimately, it’s a small fraction of your life that could potentially be a great memory to look back on. As soon as you let go the expectations that this will be a relaxing, feet-up kind of trip, you can be free to look for the positives amidst the inevitable frustrations. 

Practice empathy 

“Value open communication,” Johnson advises, “but watch for unspoken signals. Learn to recognize when your in-laws are polite but exhausted, especially if they don’t have your energy level. Think about what’s best for them.” 

If you’re the mother- or father-in-law, it can be a huge gift to tell your kids it’s time for a break. They may be trying to keep up with you as much as you’re keeping up with them. And if you have kids, know that your in-laws may be as exhausted as you are. Sometimes people in a group are waiting for that one brave person to speak up and suggest a time-out. 

Again, this is all done best when you’re calm, respectful and it’s coming from a place of empathy instead of a place of bitterness. 

Annie Chapman, author of The Mother-in-Law Dance, suggests that if things are starting to get disagreeable, you are only in control of your own reactions. You can’t change your in-laws, but you can change yourself. Ask God for wisdom, discernment and a healthy dose of patience. 

Take time to decompress as a couple

Tim and Heather may choose to stay on for a few extra nights to unwind from the family overload. Melissa and Jack took the time to walk outside and offered to get groceries – just the two of them. Looking back, those moments alone eased a lot of the tension. 

Be sure to do what you need to do to decompress and recharge as a couple. 

No one knows your spouse like you do, so make sure you’re in tune with what they need. If your spouse is the in-law, he or she may not be able to speak up and voice their need for a break, but you can! 

“The couple comes first,” Gregory explains, even in the midst of an extended family vacation. 


*Names changed to protect privacy

Amy Van Veen is editorial manager at Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2017 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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