By Jaimi Erickson
When my children were babies and toddlers, they changed so quickly as they grew. It just made sense in that season of life to use annual leave to visit family. Grandparents were willing to come visit for their birthdays, so we traveled to see them for holidays.
As the kids grew and became more attached to their local friends, traveling to visit family became a bit harder. Plus, as the kids got older it became fun to provide them with varying experiences on trips.
It wasn’t until we had pre-teens that we started to say no to traveling home for all vacations. Exploring theme parks, museums, and beaches was more enjoyable with older kids — and we wanted to explore even more vacation destinations.
The problem for military families, then, becomes determining where to go when we have the opportunity to take leave. Do we travel as a family to a fun destination? Or do we use the time off to visit family?
Deciding Whether to Visit Family
Since taking leave is not something our servicemembers can do whenever they want, we military families have to make the hard choice whether to visit family — or not — at times. As a military family, living long-distance from all of our extended family members can cause a big challenge when it comes to strengthening those relationships. We want our children to have that family connection, but the distance creates a different family dynamic.
Deciding what to do with leave time can be a real issue for military families. I hear from fellow military spouses who say they feel like they are expected to choose to visit family when they get vacation time. They do not want to disappoint their extended family members.
There is some balance to be found within this difficult challenge. Military families have to face the fact that living far from family puts some strain on us that civilian families do not often have to experience. So, to strike a balance with your family, it’s important to be open and honest about your plans.
It is okay to talk about the stress of travel and the inconveniences. “Love” in families means trying to understand both perspectives. It also means splitting the travel time to include alternate activities. Or, if you have young kids, asking extended family to come to you until the kids are a little older.
Holidays are a very cumbersome time to travel home. We found that we could only take so many presents with us and, as the kids grew, we wanted to start our own holiday traditions, beyond those we grew up with. Christmas morning events and Easter egg hunts were special fun activities in our own house. Staying home meant we could fully relax. It was possible to create a wonderful experience for our kids without the added stress of traveling. It felt good to have that family time.
Family Vacations in Balance
It has been three years since we visited any family. During that time, our children’s grandparents have traveled to visit us. Now, we are feeling like it is our turn to travel to them. The focus when we travel home is sharing the things we love about those areas with our kids. It is a chance to share where we grew up and give the kids an opportunity for family connection. It is important to recognize when it is our turn to put in the time.
So all of this begs the question: Do we, as a military family, have to travel home every chance we get time off? Should we feel guilty for spending our vacation time with just for our immediate family? The answer is no. We can make our own family vacation experiences. We can explore new places. And we can then treasure our time even more when we do see family. It makes those experiences together that much more special.