Family dynamics are fun, aren’t they? I just returned to Canada from spring break in Mexico… with my in laws. Cue impending doom track now! But wait, I survived to tell the tale. Fewf! That was a close call.
Sometimes being with my in laws feels like alien invaders have replaced my blood family with strange beings I am now expected to call Mom and Dad. These new parental figures often behave quite differently from my own parents. Don’t get me wrong, I love my new family, but when they suggested a big getaway together my first instinct was to take a giant gulp of air.
There were eleven of us in total that traveled together. I packed for the trip nervously, imagining cat fights, cold silences and disgruntled debates. It was inevitable, right? Each and every one of my new family members, my brothers and sisters in law, my new ‘mom’ and ‘dad, the package-deal individuals I inherited from my husband; each and every one of us are quirky, opinionated people. Typically these differences are not a big deal. Typically. It’s easier to get along over brunch for two hours compared with seven days back-to-back. Yet, despite my reservations, we all survived unscathed and had a great time.
All my fretting before the trip actually paid off because I boarded the plane with a plan. Thinking through what I needed to ensure a happy vacation with my in laws, before actually arriving on the sandy beach, made all the difference. Here are five steps for how you can do the same:
1. Book separate sleeping and living spaces.
While it may be cheaper and sound like the Brady Bunch approach to book a multi-room suite in a hotel or rent a condo, don’t do it. My father in law recognized the potential dangers of our family tripping over each other for a week and I was on the same page. Everyone needed their private space to relax, eat what they wanted, sleep as much as needed and hang out in second round tighty-whities without the need to be ‘on’ and social as a part of the group.
2. Do your own thing.
Not everyone wants to visit the museum or go skydiving. Expecting a family to spend every waking moment together is unrealistic and impractical. My husband and I took our kids for a walk along the ocean one morning before the rest of our family was awake; we didn’t wait and make a parade out of it. Another day my husband’s brother and wife took off for adventure excursions while I voted against activities that would mean complicated arrangements with our kids’ car seats. The freedom to do my own thing on the trip was a huge relief.
3. Remember that these people are your family now.
I sometimes think about the fact that my husband loves his parents as much as I love my own. I may not always understand all the alien-like things my in laws do, but I see how happy it makes my husband when I have a good relationship with his parents and siblings – and his happiness means the world to me. Plus, my in laws are my family too. Keeping these things in mind makes it easier to focus on cooperation, understanding, grace, love and patience instead of their nasty counterparts.
4. Quality time together.
While time apart is a healthy recommendation for family trips, it is often the coming together that will form the lasting memories. Instead of having dinner together every night and driving each other bonkers, all eleven of us picked a few special nights and made them fun. One day we celebrated the birthdays of Mom and Dad and played cards together until midnight. We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Plus, there was champagne, which leads to the final strategy in my plan.
5. Have a drink.
I’m kidding. Well, sort of. While some get feistier on the drinks with the little umbrellas, I find that kicking back with something smooth is just what I need to take the edge off. It’s easy to remain wound up from real life when the opportunity to chill out arrives, so it’s crucial to figure out a way to relax. While the form of relaxation will look different from person to person, it is without doubt that calm individuals are more likely to coexist in peace.
Thus, despite the potential for family drama, my in law vacation was pretty darn great. I didn’t want to divorce my husband after it, and vice versa, which was fabulous. No one had to sew their head back on after being bitten off in an argument. And to my surprise, I did come to appreciate each family member in a new way. What I may have thought was a silly quirk before actually turned out to be an endearing quality. That’s not too bad for seven days with aliens.