I admit it, I am in withdrawal. It’s been a little over a week since the end of our 12 day Spring Break 2016 Family Travel adventure to Atlanta, Georgia, Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World Resort. I am still adjusting to being back in the chaos that is life with a teen, tween and 9-year-old Jedi Princess. Tackling the dirty laundry we came home with in and of itself has been an unbelievably daunting task. But that feeling of missing vacation isn’t caused by what most people would think. Yes I miss Walt Disney World Resort as much as the next Disney fan, and we had such a wonderful time in Atlanta I can’t wait to go back. Plus the lack of school schedules, homework and chauffeuring kids to 10 different activities daily was an incredibly nice break for me.
But what I really miss about our family vacation is something fairly simple: the time we spent together as a family. For twelve days we did things that at home are generally unheard of: we spent the entire day together, and even more unheard of, we ate three meals together. We played and laughed together, and yes even fought together, but it was all done as a family. It was truly 12 glorious days of way too much time spent in each other’s company.
That’s not to say we haven’t spent time together on previous family vacations. We certainly have. But this year was much different as we now have a verifiable teen and tween. Last year we did have two tweens on our family vacation, but trust me, a lot can change in a year (really, A LOT), so this year our family vacation took on a whole new meaning. The previous year (2014), we just had a tween. Our family vacations have changed tremendously in a very short period of time.
As the parent of a tween and teen, I have had to adjust to many recent changes in our family dynamic. Gone are the days when all three kids wanted to play with me after school and fought for my attention. These days my son, the teen, often can be found in the basement hanging out with his friends on Xbox Live or in his room. Some days I tease him that I wasn’t sure he was even home because I hadn’t seen him for a few hours. And when my daughter, the tween, isn’t at her dance studio, she now wants to be in her room FaceTiming friends or creating music videos on Musicaly. Weekday dinners are generally me eating with the kids before running someone to dance or soccer or some other activity, with my husband eating later that evening when he gets home from work.
But this vacation? How completely different from our normal everyday life. We explored new things together, like the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coke in Atlanta.
We tried new experiences together as a family, such as riding Star Tours in Disney’s Hollywood Studios 4 times in a row, trying to see how many different versions there are of the ride. (FYI, per a Cast Member, over 50. If you ride Star Tours 50 times in a row to catch all 50 different versions, let me know. You deserve a medal). We were first time visitors at Universal Orlando, visited the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter, and we all fell in love with butterbeer.
Some of us conquered our fears together, like riding Splash Mountain with our eyes open or hands off the restraint bar, backed by the support (or more so mocking) of other family members.
We planned our days together, then spent time later at night just talking about the best part of our days. We laughed and goofed around, and just enjoyed being together. And while we all had our IPhones or IPods, these generally ran out of power at some point during the day, and weren’t allowed at meals. We actually disconnected from technology, and in a sense the outside world, and reconnected together as a family.
This is why family travel with your tween or teen is so important. It doesn’t matter so much what you do or where you go, just do something together that doesn’t involve an electronic instrument or video game or other distraction. I am very aware that these years are fleeting and in the blink of an eye my kids will be in college and then off on their own. But even before that they are already becoming more of their own person, wanting their space and needing time to be alone. Yes, we can find a few hours here and there during the week to do things together as a family, especially on the weekends, but really spending quality time together and reconnecting is a much harder task to accomplish.
We could have gone to the beach for Spring Break with various groups of school friends, and in fact my teen questioned me many times before our trip why we hadn’t chosen this plan. Well, here’s one thing I am fairly certain of: had we been at the beach where he could run off with all of his friends, I am positive he would not have been vying for the beach chair right next to me, as he was vying for the seat next to me on Big Thunder Mountain, nor would he have grabbed my hand and walked around a beach resort with me, talking to me excitedly about his day, much like he grabbed my hand at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside Resort after a day at the park and Disney Springs.
Let me say that again: my 13 year old wanted to walk around in public holding my hand and wanted to talk to me about his day.
And the tween, normally definitely not a “daddy’s girl”, had to have a picture with her dad after a ride on the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I can guarantee there would have been no pictures of the tween and her dad at the beach with her friends.
Growing up my parents took my fours sisters and I on many grand family vacations. We traveled west across the United States for 3 weeks, or north all the way up into Canada, exploring the country as a family by car. We made bi-annual trips to Walt Disney World Resort and annual treks to the beach in South Carolina. And even when we weren’t travelling, on Sundays we would often take mini-road trips to any number of educational or cultural locations near our hometown of Louisville, KY. While I have always been grateful my parents took us on so many wonderful trips and showed us the United States, looking back now as a parent I’m even more grateful for all of the time we spent together as a family. Believe it or not, we still all go on a family vacation together every year. This year, 2 grandparents, 5 girls and their husbands, and a total of 19 grandchildren are headed again to a week at the beach. I can only hope the same will be true for myself and my kids when they are in their 40’s and have their own children.
But until then I am going to make the most of the time I have to really connect with my kids, and family travel is the perfect way to do that. Being a parent to a tween or teen is hard enough on its own. One of the best ways to navigate those years? Family travel. There’s no better way to connect while exploring something new or just having fun together. I now am so missing having that much time together like we did just a week or so ago. Unfortunately with modern life it’s just impossible with school, extracurricular activities, work and everything else going on in a day, week or month. But taking the time every so often just to get away, wherever it may be, and be a family I truly believe will go a long way to making us not only a better family, but my husband and I better parents. And hopefully years from now my kids will look back as fondly as I do on these family vacations and carry on the tradition with their kids.
So how did we not only survive this family adventure with a teen, tween and Jedi Princess, all of whom have different interests at the moment, but actually have an incredibly fun vacation? Check back next week for the first post of many in my series about travelling with a teen, tween and Jedi Princess and what we loved on our recent Spring Break 2016 Family Travel adventure.
Most importantly, get out there and travel with your kids! Where will you go on your next family travel vacation?