It seems to have become expected for many families to take a vacation during winter break, and that vacation increasingly has come to mean going away. I don’t begrudge any hardworking parents or kids for wanting to relax when they finally have some time off as a family, but I have to wonder about the focus placed on getting away. After all, how much time do most families get to spend at home during the course of the year? And by that I don’t mean seeing each other in transit, grabbing quick meals and in between rushing from one activity to another. I mean, how much time do they actually get to spend relaxing together and sharing good times at home?
When we bought our house, I joked with my family that if the actual hours our house was use was figured in, and tallied with how many people it was used by, it would be hard to find a cheaper house than ours! We’re very blessed to be able to spend many hours a day together, and I know that we’re unusually lucky in that and don’t take it for granted. I realize that most people don’t have a schedule like ours. Which is what makes me think, isn’t winter vacation a good opportunity to spend some time at home together? It would reduce money stress (too many people are spending money they don’t have for vacations) while giving families a time to reconnect, and isn’t vacation supposed to be about relaxing and connecting with those you love?
Maybe staying home – having a ‘staycation’ – isn’t viewed as much of an option because it seems so humdrum. But being home doesn’t mean doing nothing! There are so many places to explore in every city, most of which you’ve probably never been to. When I lived in Seattle, I never visited the Space Needle, even though I lived only a few minutes drive away (and it was right next door to the science center that I regularly took the kids to!). But every tourist who came to the city headed there right away!
To find out about some of your local possibilities, you can contact your chamber of commerce, or start asking friends and neighbors for ideas. They should be able to give you a long list of options, many of which are low cost. I’ve lived here for six years, taken the kids on a good number of trips, and still have many, many places that I’ve never gone to that are within a thirty minute drive. Your attitude also makes a big difference – you shouldn’t oversell something because your kids will get suspicious, but be cheerful and have an attitude that you’re going to have a great time – my husband once commented that I’m good at selling my kids on my ideas. I never thought of it as selling; I just figured, if I’m positive about something and share with my kids why I think it will be fun, why shouldn’t they want to participate? And they do.
Remember, the outings don’t have to be mind-blowingly exciting. I think that trips that are too impressive actually set our kids us to have unrealisticly high expectations for the future, and diminish their ability to enjoy simple outings. (That’s one problem I have with Disneyland.) And places you’ve been to before, like the zoo, aquarium, science center, etc, are fun to go to again – having been there before doesn’t preclude them from being good options. You don’t need to schedule a day full of activities – even one outing a day is plenty, and will leave you with ample time to wake up late, move a little slower than usual, and make everyone feel there’s something fun to look forward to (this is the approach I take to planning summer days at home with everyone). And if you choose a novel way to get there, even going somewhere old is a new experience – my husband wants to get day passes for the train and take the kids from place to place downtown one day, which would be fun (but when he broached the idea to me this summer, the reality of taking an infant and toddler along with their stroller and carrying the food and water we would all need for the day made me suggest we put it off for another point).
Meals – make mealtimes special. Make something different that you know your kids will love. For lots of moms, there’s no time for anything more elaborate than a bowl of cold cereal and milk in the morning before school and work, which is fine – now’s your chance to shake things up a little with a bigger and nicer breakfast. That might be pancakes and french toast, shakes, omelettes, muffins – there are loads of possibilities (some of the recipes here on my blog might be helpful). Don’t think this means you need to spend your days in the kitchen during vacation – get your kids involved side by side with you. Cooking and baking, especially treats, can be so much fun for kids!
Then there are the entertainment possibilities that you can do at home. Maybe you can buy a new game (or pull out one that you’ve bought and never used), do some crafts, or plan a large scale family activity. Would it be fun to make baskets? But some kits. Painting, clay modelling, sewing, quilting? Start thinking and get your juices going. Visit a local craft store for ideas. Activities can be as simple as a big family jigsaw puzzle, or bigger, like painting a room or doing some home renovations. Don’t say, ‘Well, that’s not fun.” Remember what I said about attitude? It’s the attitude combined with doing something with your child/ren that makes it fun. We did a huge amount of work in our house with our kids (knocking down walls, putting up walls, adding a bathroom, replacing the kitchen, painting, etc), and it was a positive experience for everyone. They learned so much and felt great about being able to do something meaningful and real. Kids don’t expect to be entertained (unless you’ve gotten them used to expecting that, and you can get them unused to that, too!), but they do want to have something to do. If you assume it’s drudgery, it’s virtually certain they’ll see it like that, too. If you think it’s a great family activity, your enthusiasm can pull them in.
Think about what’s fun about going away. Is it the hotel experience? Maybe you can replicate that in your own house. Room service, a printed schedule of events for the day, even putting some special mini soaps and lotions in the bathroom can add to the ambience. Maybe you can plan a theme for your vacation at home. I’ve shared here about our indoor campout – this meant we did some of the things inside that we would have done outside if we were camping – setting up a tent in the living room and all sleeping there for the night together, eating dinner by candle light (since our most recent Daddy Fun Day, my 2.5 year old asks every night if we can use the oil lamp at dinner – and probably 50% of the time now, we agree!), having foods that are typical camping foods for us (hot dogs, hamburgers, roasted marshmallows). That’s an example of a theme. You can get your kids involved in brainstorming if this is something that interests you – getting them involved also means they’ll be a lot more positive about whatever you do, since they’ve had a say in planning it. Get a good book for an evening or afternoon read aloud, or check your library for a nice family video that you can enjoy together. If it ties into your theme, all the better.
It’s great for everyone to have time to sleep in, hang out, and relax. But don’t rely on that alone to create a nice atmosphere. Most kids who have been used to rigid school scheduling start getting antsy without knowing what’s coming in the day. So making a plan and letting them know what the basic plan is, in my opinion, is very helpful in keeping everyone relaxed.
If you have ideas of things that have worked well for you, please share here for others so others can benefit!