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

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A version of this post originally appeared on shelbyspear.com, 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.

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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.

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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.

Let’s just say awkward and awry littered our trip more than I want to admit. My expectations for 24/7 nirvana were amiss. Disappointment over arguments between the kids, grumpy attitudes, and displays of selfishness caused me to fall face first into righteous self-pity. Such a poor me attitude didn’t feel good, of course, so I projected my negativity elsewhere. As in towards everyone but me. You would have cowered in embarrassment watching me point fingers all around and yammer in exasperation over everyone taking for granted our incredible vacation gift which was both a tremendous sacrifice from my spouse and a beautiful blessing from God.

Unfortunately, my spouting off meant I was doing the very thing I accused others of doing. U.G.L.Y. I still don’t have an alibi.

On the plane ride home, I read Jonathan Merritt’s new book, Learning to Speak God from Scratch, (amazing by the way) and inside was a quote from Anne Lamott. God sure doesn’t mince words when He wants to get our attention. Anne says, “Expectations are merely resentments under construction.”

Well then.

With tears streaming down my face from 10,000 feet, (which does wonders for creating extra congestion to wreck your ears and sinuses during descent) I allowed God to begin the conviction process. As much as my frustration, anger, disappointment may have been justified, my poor reactions and responses in the moment were not. “Humiliation is heartwarming,” said no one ever.

While trying to process all the hurt, God helped me realize I had no one to blame but myself for the ill will bubbling in my veins over the ugly moments of our trip. Grace is the true Gospel. Jesus extended it to everyone, all the time, no matter how they acted.

I still have much to learn in both the receiving and giving sides of this transformative gift. Which begins with learning to kick expectations to the curb.

In the end, our family vacation was beyond all my dreams about what would be. Turns out the bulk of what was took my breath away. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. As for the unfortunate mishmash, goodness knows I’ve been a recipient of God’s Grace way more than I deserve, despite my human struggles. This much I should remember when other’s ruffle my feathers—especially those I love the most. They deserve grace and so much more. In Christ, I have the power and the privilege to give them both.

Let’s be love and light, crazy Mommas!


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Shelby Spear
Shelby is a Christian mom to three beautiful knuckleheads who have left her with an empty nest in which to ponder what the mom thing has (done to her) meant over the past twenty-two years. You can read her open book of revelations, screw-ups, gaffs, and joys at http://shelbyspear.com