Recipe for a family vacation


Vacations are a great time to take a fresh look at everyday matters. Someone once told me that when the late Eli Hurvitz, founder of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, returned from his summer vacation each year he would launch far-reaching initiatives in the company. The whole organization would prepare for the changes and implement them throughout the year, and the next summer Eli would go on holiday, and the cycle would begin again…

We had taken time for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in faraway Alaska. I hadn’t planned to think about work at all. But now and then the thoughts came anyway. What was interesting was that it was as though I had put on a different pair of glasses that enabled me to see things differently. For example, my blog about family owned businesses. In the past few months I had felt that writing was a tremendous task for which I had neither the time nor the genuine inclination, but from thousands of miles I away I remembered readers whom I had met over the years, who told me they followed my blog with interest and asked when I would be writing again. Suddenly, it seemed possible. So I’m back, and I hope to persevere.

Our voyage began in Anchorage, where tourists flock in droves from cruise liners or by air. We ate our first dinner in a huge restaurant, which seemed to be well prepared for the masses of tourists who visit Alaska in the summer months, and then disappear. I looked around and saw tables filled with families on vacation. It wasn’t hard to identify the parents (they were the ones who get the check at the end of the meal…), the second generation, and sometimes, the third as well.

I thought to myself that every such table tells the story of a couple, parents who worked hard for years to amply provide for their family. For them, the family vacation is most likely the realization of their desire to spend quality time with the extended family, which, during the year, may well be scattered all over the world. Inviting them all on holiday is a gift they give to themselves. The gift itself is justified, worthy, and lovely. But this is where things start to get complicated.

Is the vacation presented to the family as a gift to the parents, or as a gift from the parents to their children? And if it is a gift from the parents to their children, what strings are attached? Does the gift consider the children, their needs, how they want to spend their vacation and their schedules? And who is in charge of the vacation? Who organizes it? Who decides on the activities and the daily itinerary?

Lengthy discussions I had held with families I work with came to mind as I looked at the buzzing tables in the restaurant in Anchorage. I remembered the many conflicts that had arisen around the departure date, the itinerary and activities. I thought about the frustrated daughters-in-law, the sons trapped between the wishes of their wives and children and their own desire to please their parents. In my mind, I could hear the parents complaining, a little bitterly, that they were the ones paying for the vacation without hearing a word of thanks. I envisioned the families who had departed on vacation with the best of intentions, only to return with new quarrels and negative emotions between parents and children, between siblings and between sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.

So how does one get it right? The mother of a four-generation family shared her dilemmas and qualms about the family vacation with her peers in the mothers’ group we hold at Dorot. She was quite distraught when she talked about her and her husband’s wish to take the whole family abroad on vacation, the impossible burden that had fallen on her shoulders in organizing the trip for everyone and her constant frustration over the various requests of the whole nuclear family and the endless complaining. “All we’re doing is giving everyone a gift. Why is the whole thing turning out to be such a mess?” she wondered. The members of the group, all of them mothers of families like hers, identified with her, but were also able to ask probing questions and give her feedback. She listened and processed.

When she left the meeting, she sent the following message to the family WhatsApp group:

“My dear family, Dad and I would like to invite you all on a family vacation from __________ to ___________, in ______________. You are all invited to join us for some of the time, or for the whole time, as you wish. I’ll be happy to make the travel arrangements for whoever would like me to. Please let me know, or make your own way. I wish us all a great vacation, all of us together and each of us individually. We’ll coordinate our expectations later.

With love and respect,

Mom and Dad”

After the holiday I received the following email from her:

“I went on a family vacation with quite a few qualms and expectations. It was magical. Of course there was some friction, which is probably a good thing… But I feel that there is much more awareness and more tools to deal with conflict. I was happy that everyone wanted to be together, and we’re all learning to feel and express our needs, family needs as well as individual ones. I want to thank you for the welcome process in which you are accompanying us, and I feel that our family has come a long way. Obviously, we still have a lot of work and quite a journey ahead of us.”

So what was the recipe that made the family vacation a success?

  1. Respect for the wishes and needs of each individual.
  2. A clear definition of the “rules of the game”.
  3. A gift with no strings attached.
  4. An invitation, not an obligation.
  5. Personal space. Other than travel and arrival, everyone can “do his own thing”.
  6. Letting go of the fantasy of perpetual harmony – don’t be afraid of conflict! Friction and arguments are part of the family relationship, and they can be taken to good places.

In my heart, I wished every family seated around us in the restaurant in Anchorage that their vacation would be as good as the one I described. And to you, my readers, who have probably just returned from a family vacation and may be leaving on another one over the upcoming holidays, I suggest that you use the recipe. It works! I’m available if you’d like to prepare a family vacation according to it.