As more pandemic restrictions are lifted and family members are able to see each other after quarantine, many extended families have decided to take a multigenerational vacation this summer. Multigenerational vacations can be exciting, but as we see in our family therapy practice, they can also be an opportunity for longstanding resentments to reappear. Our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist recently addressed how families can avoid conflict during family vacations in The Washington Post.
In “Surviving Your Multigenerational Family Vacation,” Matt counters the presumption many families have that “because we’re a family, everything will be easy.” He explains, “Vacations are fun and relaxing in proportion to how much you work at them.” By work, Matt means planning and having the sometimes difficult conversations about family dynamics before you head on your trip. “Planning and transparency are so much of the ballgame,” he emphasizes.
In particular, it’s important for family members to name their expectations around, as Matt details, “things like chores, cooking, and childcare.” “Put expectations out there in advance rather than assuming,” Matt advises. This can also be useful for carving out time by yourself on the trip. He says, “…if it’s talked about in advance, it plays less like you’re avoiding family and more like, ‘We’re having a blast but now we want to go off on our own for a little while.’”
Planning shouldn’t just include activities and travel itineraries, but discussions about potential conflicts and tense relationships before the vacation. For instance, if you have a strained relationship with a sister, Matt encourages, “Talk with someone on the trip who knows how your sister can push your buttons…Agree in advance that they’ll push you aside, squeeze your hand under the table, and just be your support.”
Financial decisions about splitting costs also have the potential to cause stress on a multigenerational vacation, particularly when there are family members in different economic situations. “Communicate and agree in advance…so that everyone owns the financial decisions,” Matt says. It can be especially helpful if “the individuals who have a little more money can initiate the conversation.”
While having these conversations before the vacation can aid in making it the best it can be, it’s also essential to manage expectations. Especially after quarantine, families can put a lot of pressure on themselves. Matt reminds families: “This doesn’t have to be the bonding trip of a lifetime…but you might get to ‘fine.’ When people haven’t gotten along for a long time, having an okay time together is a win.”