A Catholic Mom’s Survival Guide for a Family Vacation

happy-family-1389105-mThese days, the reality for most of us mothers is that family vacations are a little less fun and a lot less relaxing than they were when we were the kids.

So what’s a girl to do if a tiny part of her feels just a little bit disenchanted with the whole vacation thing? I think the short answer is that you pack along your faith and you focus on your own attitude. If you’re reading this for the long answer, though, I humbly submit ten tips to help you find a right heart and maybe have a little more fun on your own family vacation this year.

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Look for vacation moments.

For us mothers (particularly mothers with small children), a lot of the time we are on our family vacation, we will do much of the same work we do at home. There will still be people to feed, diapers to change, and wayward children to correct. Then there are all those little ways that we actually do a little extra work precisely because we’re not at home. Especially as a parent with small children, the fact is that a family vacation is just not the right time to expect to finally get off your feet for many long, lazy hours of well-deserved rest and relaxation. That being said, part of having a good attitude toward a family vacation is looking for and appreciating what I call vacation moments.

Watching your children play with the cousins they only see once a year. Sneaking a long nap in one afternoon. Drinking margaritas by the pool after the kids go to bed. Letting a restaurant do the cooking one night. Letting the men do the dishes one night.

Michael and I have a little tradition of treating ourselves to something decadent from our favorite coffee shop on our way out of town for trips. Sometimes scoring a vacation moment is as easy as ordering a double-shot turtle Mochasippi WITH whip thank-you-very-much.

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Invite God along for the ride.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” –Proverbs 22:6

Don’t leave your family’s faith at home when you travel. Start by asking God as a family to bless your travels. One of the first things that my husband and I do when we travel is pray together in the car. We pray out loud for our safety, for smooth travels, and for peace and harmony among all the people on the trip. We also usually pray the Rosary, especially on long car trips.

Make plans to attend mass if you will be gone over a weekend. Make it a given that your family will find and attend a Sunday mass while you are gone.  Teach through example that you don’t take a vacation from your faith. Attending Sunday mass out of town is also a perfect opportunity to point out to your older children one of the treasures of our Catholic faith: that every Catholic parish in the world is reading the same Scripture and receiving the same Lord at mass. What a beautiful way that to remember that we really are all connected in the Mystical Body of Christ, no matter where we are.  

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Treat your husband like a king.

“[A good wife is] far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” –Proverbs 31:10-11

I know this one sounds weird, but it works. I think a lot of men really do expect to a family vacation to feel like a real vacation on some level. If your husband is anything like mine, he keeps an unofficial running tally of his accrued vacation hours in his head. He can hardly help but build up his expectations for his hard-earned break from the daily grind.

Keeping this in mind, make an effort (it doesn’t take much!) to engineer some little vacation moments for your husband during your trip. A little sweetness goes a long way. Make sure he’s got his favorite drink in the fridge. Offer to rub that shoulder that has been bothering him. Cook his favorite dinner one night. The sweetness of the feminine has a special power to soften your husband’s heart and open his eyes to the treasure of his good-hearted wife.

The best part? When your husband feels like a king, he is much more likely to remember to treat you like a queen. 

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Cultivate attitudes of gratitude.

 “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…and be thankful.” -Colossians 3:15 

You wouldn’t think that you would need to cultivate an atmosphere of gratitude while you’re on vacation with your family; after all, it is a privilege to be able to travel at all, and it is a blessing to have that special time away as a family. The fact is, though, we human beings all too quickly start taking our blessings for granted.

When we pray with our children at the end of the day at home, we often start by asking them what their favorite part of the day was. When you’re traveling, find a time when everyone is together—around the dinner table or during prayers at bedtime perhaps. Ask everyone what their favorite part of the day was. Sharing your “thankfuls” from the day is a simple way to inspire gratefulness, nurture good attitudes, and end each day on a positive note.

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Yield cheerfully in preference.

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” –Romans 12:5-8

Leftovers or pizza tonight? Pool or mini golf? Backseat or shotgun? Look for small opportunities to cheerfully yield in preference. Maybe the group wants to do something else, or a decision about something matters much more to another person than to you. Without being a martyr, make it a point to sometimes choose to sacrifice your own preferences as a small offering to the Lord. 

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Don’t worry so much about what other people are thinking.

“…my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” -2 Corinthians 12:9

Maybe I am the only one who needs to keep this one in mind when I am on vacation, but here you go: It’s not your responsibility to make other people think parenthood is A Rewarding and Glorious Vocation.  I used to feel responsible for everyone’s impression of Christian parenthood. I felt that I had to be perfect and my family had to behave well in front of others in order to point anybody to God.

It took me a long time to realize the pressure I put on myself and my disappointment when my children misbehaved in public was all from my own pride. I wanted very much to cover up the fact that this Parenthood Stuff was a lot more messy and sometimes a lot less fun than I thought it was going to be.

We are called to “be perfect as [our] Heavenly Father is perfect,” and we should never stop trying to better imitate Christ. But as Christians we have to live confidently in the hope that God works through and despite us to draw others to Him.

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Stay in perspective.

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” –Romans 8:18 

Although motherhood can be tough even in the most “normal” of circumstances of health and life situation, there are so many people dealing with terrible suffering out there. We honor those who suffer and we honor our Lord by enduring the little inconveniences and small sufferings of our days with spiritual maturity. How it must pain Jesus to see us snapping at others and pouting for a whole evening because a restaurant messed up our reservation or a member of the group made everyone a few minutes late for an activity.

If momma’s not happy, then usually nobody is happy. Talk about a big responsibility. When you are on vacation, you are still the heart of your home. Don’t let yourself sweat the small stuff. Remember how much power you have to foster a happy, harmonious vacation atmosphere for your family. 

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Bear with people.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” –Colossians 3:12-13

Sometimes people act badly. Sometimes children won’t sleep or eat or nurse well away from home. Sometimes adults act like children. Whether you travel with just your immediate family or your group needs matching neon t-shirts to help everyone stay together, you should pray ahead of time for extra graces to bear with and forgive others quickly. Our Lord knows that all too often we are the ones who need forgiveness.

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Let go of control.

“It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” –Proverbs 25:24

A lot of the time, it’s we mothers who run the show in our families—or at least do most of the grunt work for family outings. Taking a trip where you are responsible for traveling with small children will make a Master Planner, Packer and Organizer out of just about anyone. The thing is, on vacation and in general, nobody likes hanging out with a control freak (even one who Just Wants to Make Everybody Happy). Take a step back and make sure that your mad planning skills aren’t driving everybody crazy. If you are like me and struggle just a little with feeling the need to continuously orchestrate everything your family does, focus your efforts instead on acquiring the grace of self-control.

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Plan a REAL vacation.

“Come my beloved, let us go forth into the fields and lodge in the villages…” –Song of Songs 7:11

A vacation is for relaxing, rest and rejuvenation. A “family vacation” can have some or even many of those aforementioned vacation moments, but in the majority of cases it probably won’t leave your heart and soul revived and rested.

Plan a real vacation. You, your husband, and some time and space to just be.  If you have to, bring your nursing baby (I’ve had to once or twice). Shoot for once per year, and even just for one night if that’s all you can do. Maybe even consider attending a marriage retreat. Of course, pregnancy, babies, illness, and a host of other unique situations may mean that, for some couples, a just-us getaway may not be possible for a while.

If getting away together isn’t an option anytime soon, what are some creative ways at home that you and your husband can plan a little time and space for your marriage? A faithful in-home date night once a week? A day trip somewhere by yourselves? A marriage series or retreat offered by your parish?

Our deepest peace and rest should come from God alone, but being intentional about making space for finding peace and rest within your marriage is important. Do what you can, if possible and within reason, to run your home and even parent your children in a way that allows you and your husband to occasionally spend some much-needed and uninterrupted time alone. The fruit of that kind of effort is a gift to your husband, a gift to your children, and a gift to yourself.

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Leave a comment for me and other readers with your best tips for cultivating a right heart and having a good time on your own family vacation. God bless and bon voyage!

Copyright 2014 Erin Franco

3 Comments
  1. Profile photo of Meg Matenaer June 16, 2014 | Reply
  2. Erin
    June 16, 2014 | Reply
  3. Marianne
    June 18, 2014 | Reply

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