The Downside of Having Expectations for a ‘Perfect’ Family Vacation

A version of this post originally appeared on, published with permission.

Family vacays are all the rage.

Togetherness, good times, new experiences, and memory making are what we moms project into our mind space when planning a getaway with our loved ones. These positive expectations release endorphins in our brain which give us all the giddy feels.

The sticky side of our daydreaming is the often-unspoken nature of what we hope will be.

Instead of having pre-departure dialogue where everyone has an opportunity to express their expectations (if we have littles then this includes our spouse, and if we have bigs, then this includes the whole fam damily), sometimes we just rub Aladdin’s lamp and assume our personal wishes are universal and will come true.

Why wouldn’t everyone want what we want—joy and love all the way around no matter what we’re doing? Isn’t this a no brainer?

While I do believe every family member desires joy and love within a vacation, the preconceived notions of how the days might unfold will differ. When you throw in the dynamic of 24/7 togetherness, situations won’t always be roses and snowflakes because, personality differences, ruffled routines, hangriness, and a slew of uncontrollables.

Hello, reality. Not thanking you for coming.

My family just got home from a magnificent 10-day trip to Barcelona. The hubs, our two grown sons, and I met our daughter who is studying in Spain to celebrate her 21st birthday and treat ourselves to an extravagant getaway as part of our 25th wedding anniversary. The boys coming along was a complete surprise to our girl, adding to the merriment.

As you can imagine, my mom heart was on overdrive before leaving in anticipation of all the wonderful memories in queue. The endorphins were firing inside me for months in advance. I also knew this would probably be the last rodeo for just the five of us due to our kids being 20-somethings where the landscape of relationships can expand quickly. Since I’m a sap, the sentimental nature of the whole gig swirled through my cells for days on end.

While our trip was glorious, surreal, indescribable, wonderful, and a masterpiece of cherished memories, some ugly also filled in the gaps. Like real ugly at times. I’m willing to admit this truth because I know our family isn’t alone in our less than moments. We all have them but most of the time we avoid shining a light into the darkness for fear of skewing how others perceive us.

The truth is, perfection in marriage, parenting, and sibling relationship is impossible. As humans we’re just plain flawed. We’re going to give in to selfishness, pride, anger, pettiness at times for countless reasons. The rub is that when we forget to put love on when we get out of bed in the morning, life has a good chance of becoming awkward and awry—both for ourselves and for the unlucky souls who cross our naked path.

Shelby Spear
Shelby Spear
Shelby is a sappy soul whisperer, sarcasm aficionado, and pro-LOVE, Jesus adoring mom of 3 Millennials writing stuff & doing life with her hubby of 25 years. You can read her stories on her blog at, around the web, and in print at Guideposts. Shelby's new book, co-authored with Lisa Leshaw, is now available: How Are You Feeling, Momma? (You don't need to say, "I'm fine.")

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