By Christine Murray, HRI Director

As we mentioned yesterday, research tells us that having fun is one of the most meaningful aspects of family vacations for children. Common sense would tell us this, too, in that vacations are often synonymous with family fun.

It may seem kind of silly to think about needing to be intentional about having fun on a family vacation. You wouldn’t want the family fun to be or feel artificial, so shouldn’t you just try and let it happen naturally? While we at HRI do hope that you naturally have plenty of family fun this summer, we also know that there are plenty of things that can get in the way of your family’s opportunities to have fun.

Some of the things that might block you fun during family time–whether on vacation or closer to home–this summer include the following:

  • Technology: Too much time spent on technology that distracts you from the in-person connections
  • Unresolved conflict: Lingering conflict, anger, or hurt feelings that get in the way of positive connections
  • Limiting beliefs or expectations: Believing things like “It takes a lot of money to be able to do really fun things as a family,” or “Our family is just too serious to have much fun.”
  • Being over-scheduled: Rushing from one place or activity to the next, which puts too much time-pressure on everyone that there’s not time for relaxing or spontaneity
  • Lack of mindfulness: Fun moments may be right in front of you, but you miss them because you’re distracted or not paying attention

Any of these things can seriously suck the fun out of your time together. They can even turn what should be fun moments into a big heap of stress and frustration!

So, what’s the key to maximizing fun with your family this summer? One of the best things you can do is be intentional about setting boundaries around these potential fun-blockers. In other words, maximizing fun with your family is often less about creating fun experiences than it is about protecting those experiences from being hurt by one or more of the things that threaten to derail your family’s fun together.

For each of the above potential blocks to fun, setting boundaries to protect your family’s fun potential might look like the following:

  • To prevent technology from taking over your family time, be intentional about unplugging! Take some time when you leave your phone, devices, etc. away from you so you can really focus on your family. Use tools like email auto-responses to let people know when you’ll be available again. If you need to stay connected for any reason, such as work or personal obligations, consider scheduling brief, designated times to check in, rather than leaving yourself connected all the time.
  • To protect unresolved conflict from hurting your time as a family, decide when and how you’ll work through the conflict in a healthy way. Ideally, you can find a time before your vacation or other planned family time to practice good conflict management skills so you can reach a workable resolution. However, some issues can’t be solved easily. In these cases, agree to set the issues to the aside for a reasonable time-frame, and use that time to focus on the positive aspects of your relationships. Chances are, by focusing on the positives, you’ll be in a better place to address the conflict when you come back to it!
  • To work through limiting beliefs or expectations that create a perception that family fun is out of reach, identify and work to replace these limiting beliefs with more accurate ones. First, spend some time examining your values and beliefs about fun in your family. You may believe you’re too busy to have fun, that you don’t have enough money to do fun things, or that your kids would rather have fun with their friends than spend time with you. Once you’ve identified the specific limiting beliefs that you hold, challenge them and consider ways to reconstruct alternative, yet realistic, beliefs that support your goal of having fun with your family. So, instead of believing that you’re too busy to have fun, focus on how you can carve out even small moments of time to do fun things together. Rather than letting a belief about limited financial resources equating limited fun, think through low-cost or free ways you can have fun together. Or, if you believe your kids would rather have fun with friends than with you, consider that they may actually value both sources of fun in their life.
  • To keep an overly-packed schedule from sucking up time for fun with your family, make fun, relaxed time together a priority. You may need to cut out some more structured activities to leave time (and energy) available for just relaxing with some fun down time together. If you’re on a family vacation, consider scheduling just one major outing or activity per day, and then leaving some more relaxed time. Especially during vacation, try to avoid being too rigid about your family’s schedule. Breaking out of your normal routines may open up some new possibilities for having fun. (More on this topic tomorrow!)
  • Practice mindfulness to keep distraction and a lack of attention from making you miss out on family fun. Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as noticing what’s happening in the moment–how you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, what your senses are experiencing, and what’s happening around you. This sounds simple, but with all the competing demands for your attention, it’s likely more difficult than it seems to maintain mindfulness throughout your day. To stay more mindful of fun and enjoyable times with your family, be intentional about paying attention. It’s normal for your mind to wander, but develop ways to remind yourself to come back to the present moment. Look into the faces of your family members. Notice what they’re doing and how that makes you feel. Take a deep breath. Pay attention. The beauty of the present moment is that it’s always right there before you, if you just pay attention!
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