When You're The Family Planner, Here's How to Actually Enjoy Your Vacations

When You're The Family Planner, Here's How to Actually Enjoy Your Vacations.
© Richard Drury / Getty Images

By Megan Margulies, Good Housekeeping

One evening, after the kids were in bed, my exhausted husband fell onto the couch to watch TV. I, on the other hand, sat in front of my computer researching local beaches. It was a Friday night, so the question on my mind was: What will we do tomorrow?

I explored options, the cost of parking and the best time of day to go, and then I posted on the local parent Facebook group to get more opinions. By the time I decided on a late-afternoon trip to the beach with a picnic dinner, my husband had moved from the news to an old episode of The Simpsons.

During the pandemic, my role as the family's travel agent all but disappeared, but with the world opening up again, I found myself already exhausted by it.

I could have asked my husband for help, but I admit that I'm a bit of a control freak. I fear that if I’m not the one to do something, it won’t be done right. On the day of our beach trip, while my husband watched the kids, I gathered everything we needed (tent, towels, bathing suits, sunscreen, snacks, dinner, water, change of clothes, emergency lollipops for meltdowns in the car, to just name a few). And yet, even with his help of watching the kids, I was stressed and cranky by the time we got in the car. The list of things to remember felt overwhelming, and I couldn’t shake the anxiety that I’d forgotten something.

When we finally got to the shore, I had moments when I was able to enjoy myself: when my 2-year-old ran toward low tide squealing with excitement, and when my 6-year-old held a fist-sized snail that I found in a tide pool. But mostly I resented serving as the point person for everything. I wanted to be along for the ride, just like the rest of my family. And I know I’m not the only parent who feels like their family cruise director. So, are the more control-minded among us doomed to a life of irritated outings, or is there a way we can figure out how to enjoy ourselves too?

The problem is more about my expectations than my family.

“It's very common to experience this feeling of resentment,” Cindy Kaplan, MA, a conscious parenting coach who works with parents and families, says of my beach day frustration. But she emphasizes that the resentment will only poison our own experience. Kaplan points out that the work to be done is mostly about ourselves, the planners. “If we want to have this experience, then you go, you give it 100 percent, and you enjoy it because it's what you want to do with your kids,” she says.

But letting go of resentment isn’t always easy. While Kaplan suggests making a checklist beforehand so that both parents can contribute to the planning, she acknowledges that making a list is a task that still probably falls on the planner in the family. This wasn’t a tactic that felt helpful to me, only another task to be in charge of and a level of relinquishing control that made me uneasy. I needed a different approach to banishing these feelings of resentment.

Instead, she notes that it’s important to think through our expectations of our partners. Maybe there’s something else that they bring to the table that we don’t? For example, I may be the planner, but when we’re on our trips my husband is the one who takes on a bulk of the playing and chasing kids around, and for that, I’m grateful.

Kaplan also reminds me to make sure that I’m preparing for my own needs, as well as the needs of my family — something I often forget, since I’m usually busy taking care of everyone else. So one afternoon on a recent trip to Vermont, I asked my husband to take the kids out for ice cream and a spin around the playground while I stayed back at the rental house alone. I wrote, I wandered around the property and I enjoyed the sun on my face and the sound of the wind through the Vermont hills. It was a necessary moment of pause, and one that ultimately helped to make the trip enjoyable for everyone.

Choose problem-solving on the fly over preparing for every scenario.

One of the reasons I am the default planner, I admit, is that delegating responsibilities gives me anxiety. What if something gets forgotten? What if something goes wrong?

Read More: 8 Tips for Germ-Free Travel

Kaplan points out that this is one of the biggest issues to tackle. We must learn, she says, to embrace “The Messy.” We should ask ourselves a big question: Why do we need everything to go perfectly? “From our kids’ experiences, to our own experiences, to the Instagram photos and everything in between,” we’re putting enormous amounts of pressure on ourselves, Kaplan says.

As the planner, I’m overcome with the “what ifs.” I’m not only thinking about the basics like underwear and socks, but also the extras that will save us from any possible mishaps — like my car lollipops in case we get stuck in traffic and the 2-year-old starts getting antsy. And yet, if the lollipops were left at home on the kitchen counter and we got stuck in a stop-and-go nightmare, I probably would have had to endure some toddler whining, but ultimately it wouldn’t have ruined our day.

For other family planners, imagining and preparing for any and all situations might come in handy every once in a while. But if the pressure to think of every possible situation begins to stress you out to the point where you’re no longer having fun, that’s a sign it’s time to pull back.

Take a pause for perspective when the unexpected happens.

“You have to be willing to let go, and ride the wave,” says Kaplan. So, let’s say you’re on your family trip — I refuse to say vacation, because let’s get real — and something goes awry. How do you roll with it?

Kaplan says it’s as easy as slowing everything down. Take a few slow, deep breaths and find the present moment before trying to solve the problem. Taking a moment might give you some perspective. Is it really all that bad? “We're tough creatures on ourselves,” Kaplan says. “Give yourself permission to pause, and be gentle on yourself.”

Along with everything else, I packed Kaplan’s words with me on our Vermont trip. I was still the planner, and I owned the fact that this wasn’t going to change. This was who I was — a control freak with the best of intentions. Instead of trying to delegate the planning and packing, I reminded myself that my husband would pull his weight in other ways that I couldn’t, which helped to let go of that old resentment.

On our fourth day there, it rained. I realized — I admit, in a moment full of self-loathing — that I forgot to pack rain gear. As New Englanders, this felt ridiculous and I could have kicked myself for forgetting something so obvious. Instead, I took a breath, and let it go.

What happened? The kids wore their water shoes, one of them briefly whined about being cold, then we used the washer and dryer at the rental to dry our clothes. Sure, we all got a little wet, but that’s what happens when you ride the wave.

See more at Good Housekeeping

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Travel Magazine: When You're The Family Planner, Here's How to Actually Enjoy Your Vacations
When You're The Family Planner, Here's How to Actually Enjoy Your Vacations
I'm the one who researches and organizes family trips, so I had to learn how to have fun on them. Other control freaks like me can learn how to do it.
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