We have a big birthday coming up this summer in the Daley house, and have decided to celebrate it through a big family vacation. As we have been working to plan our trip, I have been reminded of one of my favorite challenges of modern parenting, something that I like to call “The Griswold Effect” or, as a verb, “Griswolding.”
If you are familiar with the National Lampoon Vacation series of movies, then you may already be comfortable with the Griswold Effect. It is best summarized in the following interchange between Ellen and Clark Griswold:
Ellen: You set standards that no family can live up to.
Clark: When have I done that?
Ellen: Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays…
Clark: Goodnight, Ellen.
Ellen: Vacations, graduations.
And who could forget this epic scene highlighting how much a vacation can go wrong?
Full disclosure, I felt very connected to the Vacation series because of the fact that they pulled themes from our own family vacations growing up. My only memory of our amazing trip to the Grand Canyon was the fact that our parents bought spears for me and my brother with which we tortured each other for years to come.
We went on the epic trip to Europe and my father found himself driving through a pedestrian-only square creating fear in the Italian citizens around us. My father was a sweet man with an epic temper, and he usually had massive tantrums that accompanied these wrong turns. He was very tall, and none of us will ever forget the time we stayed in an old hotel in Austria where the door frames were shorter than him- it was a long series of BOOM and then dad yelling “DAMMIT” over and over and over again. We had a tendency to be pretty miserable on our vacations.
When we are Griswolding, we set expectations for events that would never be possible for any normal family with normal family dynamics to achieve. We overlook individual differences and set our sights on ideals. We convince ourselves that the social media version of reality is actually truth. When we Griswold, we set ourselves up for disappointment.
So, how do we avoid this toxic practice? Here are 4 distinct ways:
1. Practice Radical Acceptance of Your Family
Radical acceptance is the practice of fully accepting circumstances exactly as they are. It is radical because the acceptance is complete and entire. What this looks like in practice is really trying to accommodate individual differences and personal struggles rather than expecting that vacation will make things different.
For example, our kids are pretty miserable when they get too far off their schedule, so we usually stick to a pretty similar schedule when on vacation. My father could never stand to wait at restaurants, so it would have been much better if we planned for reservations rather than going from place to place to find the shortest wait.
2. Collaborate with All Key Players
What this actually looks like is trying to understand experiences from everyone’s perspectives. In the Daley family, we have a meeting where we discuss where we are going, what the attractions of the area are, and try to get a good idea of where everyone’s interests lie.
At our last beach vacation, we picked a property that was on a canal, because many Daleys are happier spending time fishing than laying on the beach. When the kids were younger, they were not as cognitively flexible, so it was helpful to even give them a day or circumstance that would predict the activity- e.g. we will go to a movie on Friday or earlier if it rains.
3. Create Breaks in Your Schedule
The first time that I went to Europe with my husband, we created a tour of as many countries as possible in our limited number of days. In all trips since we have decided that fewer places with more time is a much nicer arrangement. I usually try to aim for plans for 2/3 of the amount of time for the vacation, so we have plenty of opportunities to rest and relax.
When you get home from a trip, have another meeting where you talk about what went well, and what you think could have been better.
We went to the beach in April one year and were disappointed to have it rain almost the entire week. We had chosen our favorite beach, which happens to be about a two-hour drive from a movie theater or any indoor activity. Although we still had a good time, we decided that we probably needed a new favorite beach that also had rainy day activities.
I hope that these tips will help you plan a Griswold-free family vacation. If it happens to pan out that way, then try to at least laugh at yourself as well as you can at good old Clark Griswold!