First of all, let’s just get this ONE FACT out of the way — there is nothing EASY about a summer family vacation even when all the family members are HAPPY, but then when you add a miserable teenager to the station wagon? Well, you better brace yourself for some seriously (and likely malodorous) mayhem.
There must be a name for the phenomena known as, “When teens suddenly hate all things ‘family.’” By this I mean in the matter of a few short months, it seems you can have a kid go from being excited about the family summer vacation, to having a kid who acts like hanging out with the fam for one week is akin to being in a juvenile detention center.
When your teen acts like family time is torture
When I first experienced this miserable form of togetherness and forced fun for myself, I was full of rage and confusion, and asked myself what was wrong with our family that my teen found us so awful to be around? Three teenagers and many unenjoyable summer vacations later, I realize nothing is wrong with US, but something is definitely wrong with THEM, and it’s totally normal.
Let me repeat, THIS IS NORMAL.
Call it adolescent angst, attitude, or indifference, but whatever it is that turns a once sweet kid vacationer into ostensibly miserable travel companions, I promise you it’s just a phase, and the best thing to do is not take it personally. As a matter of fact, I have a few other tips and words of advice to help you survive a vacation with your curmudgeonly teen.
How to survive a vacation with your teen
1) First of all, it’s not you, it’s THEM
Not only did every bad breakup you ever have contain the statement, “It’s not you, it’s me,” it’s also a mantra to live by during the teen years. You’re going to feel supremely unloved like you have the plague unloved, and especially during the forced togetherness of a family vacation, so just repeat the #1 mantra and pray for age 20 to come quickly.
2) In case you need reminding, #1 is an actual thing because of uncooked brains
While in some cases teens make excellent travel buddies, you’re going to experience one —if not several, total teen meltdowns on one or more family vacations while said brains finish baking. And how does an uncooked brain behave?
It sometimes whines in the back seat. Or whines about sharing a hotel bed. Or whines about not giving a crap about a national monument. Guess what? Let them pout in the car and miss seeing Mt. Rushmore. You go enjoy it with the rest of the family — no guilt allowed! I repeat, let them have their toddler tantrum and miss all the cool stuff. Not your problem!
3. Pack more than patience
We all know to “pack our patience” before heading off for airline travel or long road trips, but add cantankerously crabby teens who want nothing to do with the stone crabs you just paid an arm and a claw for, and you need more than patience. You need confidence. That’s it. Just some in-your-face confidence that speaks louder than the yelling you may find yourself doing at an interstate rest area.
Confidence that simply says to you and everyone else, “I’m a good mom dammit! And I am going to have fun on this vacation, and I do not care one bit if you teens choose to skulk around this beach house (or theme park, or 5-star restaurant, or river cruise…) I AM HAVING A GREAT TIME FOR ME!!!! Say that! And say it loud moms! And then do it.
4. Let them bring a friend
A surefire way to keep your teen in check and willing to do all the corny vacation things with the family is to allow them to bring a friend with them. I know, I know, you just wanted YOUR family on vacation to make quality memories blah, blah, blah, but trust me on this, another teen who doesn’t belong to you will typically have stellar behavior in your presence, putting some good, positive peer pressure on your grumpy kid to straighten up. You can still make all the memories and I promise it’s not awkward, and the best part is, your teen can then go on vacation with THEM! It’s a win-win.
5. Leave the teens at home, or adjust HOW you vacation with them
That’s right. Go ahead and just leave ‘em at home. If their attitudes and noncompliance are just too much to handle, and you don’t want to return home from what is supposed to be a relaxing vacation in the foulest of moods and hating all your kids, then just don’t include them this summer.
Another option is to divide vacation time in half, the first part with teens, last part without them, and choose a vacation option which allows for teens to “free-range” it so to speak —as in, once you reach your destination, give them plenty of opportunities for exploring on their own, and refrain from too much pressure to all “be together all the time.”
Traveling with adolescents can be the parenting reward you’ve been waiting for, because the days of crying, exhausted littles at theme parks have finally passed, but it does bring with it a new set of challenges, and just like before, remember to release the pressure that vacations have to be perfect. Vacations with teens may be a struggle as you try to coax them out of their shells of angst, but with some humility, and perhaps plenty of beach-side frozen drinks, this too is all about survival and it will pass.
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