Less than 2,000 square feet. Four adults. One toddler. Three dogs. And one bathroom.
That’s what’s happening for Thanksgiving, Christmas and summer vacations. It’s a tight squeeze, especially with the bathroom situation. Somehow, my family has been able to make this work remarkably well for the last 3 years.
Along the way, I’ve learned 5 tips that all military families can use for their travels.
5 Tips For How To Keep The Peace During Extended Visits With Your Extended Family
If your family is like mine, they are probably scattered. We got lucky and everyone we love is mostly within a 2-state region. That makes holiday travels and visits a little bit easier.
The biggest thing we’ve found, to see everyone and stay sane, is having our own vehicle or access to transportation.
When we’ve been stationed on the East Coast, road tripping home for the holidays has been a lifesaver. If I’ve flown in, I can usually use one of my parents’ cars after dropping them at work.
Having a car means that I can come and go as I please, take the kids to the zoo or even just have a mental break. We can hop between houses or travel to see another family member. Plus, it saves us having to change the car seat situation around every time.
So bring your own, arrange to use one locally or rent one at the airport. Your sanity will thank you later.
Let It Go
Yes, you might run a tight ship at your house. When on vacation, loosen up just a little bit.
For example, our toddler is required to sit at the table for each meal and there are no snacks on the couch. At my parents’ house, however, she regularly eats picnic style on the living room floor.
Whether it’s parenting your children or being outside of your “normal” routine, it can pay dividends to just let it go.
Beds not made? Whatever!
Dinner not well-balanced and promptly served at 6 p.m.? Cool!
Kids staying up until way past bedtime reading stories or watching movies with cousins? Absolutely!
Things might not be running as usual, and that’s OK. This isn’t your house. And it’s vacation after all. So loosening up, even just a little, can erase some of the stress.
Traveling is stressful. There isn’t really any way around that. Being out of your normal environment, routine and bed can heighten emotions in a bad way.
When you feel yourself starting to unravel, step back for a while.
When I’m getting frustrated over something, I go for a run. Pounding the pavement for a few miles releases my tension and I come back a lot calmer.
If running isn’t your thing, there are so many other options. Escaping into a good book or watching a movie can help you to decompress. Taking a walk, even just around the block, gives you a chance to cool down and enjoy some fresh air.
Hand Off Responsibility
It can get testy when everyone needs to use the single bathroom all at once. I’ll deal with that in exchange for lightening my responsibility load.
When I’m “home” for the holidays or over the summer, I pass a lot off to the other adults in the house. Having my parents or my sister around makes child care so much easier. I can escape for a few stroller-free miles or grab a drink with a girlfriend. My husband and I have even managed to squeeze in multiple date nights!
Your family will want to spend time with your children. Let them! Hand over responsibility and enjoy the quiet. Count your blessings, even as you are silently cursing the tight quarters.
Know Your Limits
Before you arrive, talk with your spouse about your hard limits. For me, it’s cats. I am allergic and we have family members with furry felines. There have been more than a few holiday gatherings that find me bleary-eyed from Benedryl and wheezing like a 2-pack-a-day smoker.
After suffering through several years of this, I finally put my foot down. Now my husband knows that when I shoot him the “look” it’s time to pack it in and head for home or get a hotel. Hanging with beloved family, and their cats, isn’t quite as special when I can’t breathe.
Cats are my line in the sand and yours is probably different. Knowing how much you can take personally and as a family is important. It lets you keep some boundaries and remain in control of your emotions and reactions.
If you need to excuse yourself from an event or relocate your family, try to do it with grace and civility. Explain kindly why you need to leave: use the late hour and your child’s bedtime; your severe allergy to cats; or the fact that you’re waiting on a private call from a deployed spouse.
Keep it neutral to preserve the relationship with your family. After all, you will probably want some of Aunt Mary’s killer homemade fudge next Thanksgiving!