Well it is that time of the year. The suitcases are packed with your favorite summer clothes and the car is full of all the equipment that is needed for a fun family holiday. Or perhaps it is a flight to some wonderful location that you have been saving all year for, and now the family is ready to go on that long awaited vacation.
The sun is shining and images of the family, holding hands and laughing with joy, dance through your head. You can imagine your family on the beach, enjoying a picnic, riding bikes all with smiles on their faces. You imagine the children squealing with delight while riding the latest attraction at the theme park you choose to visit. You are sure that the children will be enriched by the sights and sounds of the interesting holiday destination you chose. You have been waiting for these moments, anticipating the opportunity to truly spend some family time together.
But wait, things start to take a turn. The kids are fighting in the back of the car and you feel like your head is going to explode if they get any louder. The beach was riddled with sand flies, and all the kids did during the historical tour was complain that it was too hot. Your youngest threw up after riding the "turn a person upside and all around ride" that everyone was raving about. This was not the way you envisioned your family holiday... but when you start to think about it, this is the way it usually is each year.
We all wait for the big family holiday and then find ourselves stressed out and overwhelmed. Not to worry, because this means you are doing something right. It just would not be a true family holiday if it did not have some stress and overwhelm. Be careful that you do not idealize the family holiday and then become disappointed by the reality.
To truly get MORE out of your holidays you need to approach the family vacation as a "Realistic Optimist". Remain positive and trust that things will unfold as they need to do, but also prepare yourself and have realistic expectations of what the experience will actually be. When you approach the family holiday in this manner the true purpose of these adventures begins to emerge.
Family holidays are not meant to be picture-perfect experiences; they are meant to be exceptional and out-of-the-norm experiences. When the whole family is together for an extended period of time there will be stress and overwhelm, and maybe even a tear or two in the mix. This is the opportunity to work through issues as they arise, to guide the children in problem solving and to forgive each other the human moments that close quarters can magnify.
True intimacy comes from working together and working through the challenges together. That is how we really bond, not through some idealized vision of a holiday. Those picture-perfect moments are just advertising, they are not the real stories of real families. The real stories are a bit messy, not so elegant, at times frustrating, but always interesting.
Once you let go of the expectations of having a perfect family holiday you can really begin to enjoy the opportunities for building deeper connections that are right in front of you. So the kids work through their backseat sibling issues and have fun exploring the new locations. And despite the sand flies the beach was great. The next thing you know the children are quoting the guide from the historical tour, and they actually seemed to have learned something despite the heat.
These are the stories that make a family strong. Once you get home, unpack and begin the laundry you hear everyone talking about the "best holiday ever" and you know that each hot, challenging, wonderful, sand fly infested moment was well worth the "relaxation" of another great family holiday.
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