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The Ugly Truth About Family Vacations

Do you like your family vacation? Honestly? Is it what you want to do?

I hope the answer is "yes," because too many parents I know go on vacations they endure rather than enjoy.

I'll hear about how when they finally squeeze in a week off from work, they're packing up, driving all night to the beach, fighting traffic, arriving exhausted. After they get home, the wife will whisper to me, "I don't even like the beach that much."

Or they're doing a theme park, and the husband wants to scream at the long lines and relentless cheesy music piped over them as they're waiting. When he's back at work, it's a relief to shut the office door, check e-mail and reclaim his brain.

Sure, the kids love it, but do you? Who really needs the vacation here, anyway?

It seems to be hard for parents to be honest with themselves about what it is they want on vacation. Maybe they're obligated to attend a large family reunion, so why fight it? Or maybe they give in, thinking that as long as their spouse and kids are happy, they can be happy too. Or they're so focused on creating idyllic memories for their children, they forget to allow themselves to relax.

Sharon Teitelbaum, a work-life coach in the Boston area, encourages people to think through what would make the vacation enjoyable for them. "Make it clear what you most want," she says. "Because if you're not clear on what you want, you're probably not going to get it. You don't just get what you need by having X number of days away from your job."

Sometimes you just have to try different vacations to realize what works. "When my family was young," Teitelbaum says, "I had to have a couple of experiences of the summer rental before I realized, 'This really sucks for me.' Not only are we away from babysitters, friends and all the toys, I'm shopping and cooking. Who needs it?"

As I head out for vacation in the Adirondacks, I can honestly say I'm elated. We go to a rustic family-camp type place that has no TVs and no clocks. Our phones don't work. The beauty of the mountains is astonishing, and I'll have time to count my kids' freckles and row a boat across a lake with my husband.

But the best part can be summed up in three words: modified American plan. Breakfast and dinner are included, and I don't care what anyone decides to eat. No arguments about vegetables. We're paying more with the food included, so we're staying fewer nights to keep within our budget. It's a worthwhile tradeoff.

I'm getting my wish: mountains, family time, and no cooking. I'm pretty sure my husband agrees this is relaxing. (I'd better double-check on that.) "Work it out with your spouse," Teitelbaum says. "If you're in absolute conflict about vacation, swap off. Summer vacation you'll get what you want, winter vacation he gets what he wants. You both need a vacation, and it needs to be fun."

Notice who should not be consulted in the vacation planning. They'll be happy if you are.

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