Q: Since my husband and I retired, we have twice planned to take summer vacations to get away for a few days and to spend time with our grandchildren, who live out of province.
We are planning to take a third one.
So far, the vacations have been disasters. My fear is that this one will be disastrous as well. When our four children were younger, I blamed summertime misadventures on the kids. They were always fighting or crying or pouting no matter where we went or what we did.
I remember dreaming of the day when all of our children would leave home and Dad and I would be free to do whatever we wanted, wherever and whenever we wanted to do it.
But it did not happen. I guess the problem was not the kids.
Vacations are stressful for both of us. We argue a lot and seldom agree on what we might want to do once we are wherever it is that we are going. It is terrible.
I know that other people have great vacations. It is possible, or so it seems, but not for us.
What can we do to turn this whole thing around, to make our vacations pleasurable?
A: The answer to your question is quite complicated — hang with me.
When you and “Dad” first got together, the two of you likely spent a lot of time talking about how much you were similar to each other. Both of you liked living in the country, listening to the same kind of music and often as not skipping out on Sunday morning services with your pastor.
Of course, things changed over time and as your relationship matured some of the differences between the two of you started to surface.
But you handled them. When your best friend dropped over for a friendly chat in your kitchen, something you enjoyed doing, Dad was out at the Quonset puttering away on his machinery, something he enjoyed doing. Each of you, you and Dad, was doing what was important to you.
For many people, that whole system they developed, the quiet way in which they learned to live together despite their personal differences, breaks down during the summer vacation. Instead of recognizing whatever is unique, different and wonderful about each of them, they try to squeeze each other into each other’s expectations.
It does not work. Surprise, surprise.
Dad may not like sailing up and down the River Rhine listening to operatic solos in a picturesque German countryside, despite Mom’s teary-eyed admonitions. And Mom may not enjoy a night of beer and shuffleboard with Dad.
Both you and Dad might enjoy your summer vacations more if you let each other off the hook and chase after those interests by yourself that make sense to you.
Dad goes one way, you go another, and the two of you agree to meet afterwards for either coffee, supper or both.
Chances are that the two of you are going to have a great conversation with each other when you meet. Dad can share with you what it is that he has enjoyed, while you can do the same for him. You will be pleasantly surprised how much you can enjoy and love each other once you get rid of the competitive tug-of-war that is otherwise the ogre of the summer vacation.