Dear Carolyn: I once considered "family time" important enough that family travel became an item in our monthly budget so money would never be a reason for not visiting family. Now, with three small kids in tow, I am dreading our yearly trips. I would happily cancel this year's to save the hassle of days in the car with kids, sleeping in unfamiliar places, and the weeks of poor sleep the youngest experiences when we return. In all honesty, I'd skip two years of trips.
But family is still important, so I'm trying to buck up. I can't get past the resentment, though: Neither of our families seems to have any clue that travel is really difficult right now — not even the ones who have the same number of kids. Perhaps because they live near the rest of the family, they don't end up so worn out? I'm not sure.
How do I resolve this pull between the importance of family and the fact that life is just super hard at this stage?
Family time is very important, and, yes, sometimes you have to force the issue when inertia is keeping you home.
But in your case, inertia isn't the only "no" vote; sanity wants no part of this trip, either. Even your priorities are milling around awkwardly, avoiding eye contact with the pro-vacation set.
It is OK, and I would even argue necessary, to throw some of your child-rearing priorities in a closet for a while. You can apply this on a daily level — say, when your healthy-food principle collides with your conservative-bedtime principle and dumps you at a drive-thru window — and longer-term, when you take a hiatus from harping on manners, for example, to promote more unguarded family talks.
You can also bag a trip just because. You're the co-CEO of this family. You don't want to be a capricious one, but you can adapt to changing conditions. And you do get to declare when your people need a break.
All that being said, this doesn't have to be an either-or decision between a year without family and misery on wheels.
If bouncing overstimulated kids from the family truckster to lumpy mattresses and back again doesn't bond them to the cousinry, then take your plans apart. Is it the car, the schedule, the mattresses? Can you use other transportation, set a less ambitious schedule, stay in better places?
If the answer is no, no and no, then can you get creative? Can you travel with one child at a time, on short trips spread out over the next year, at least till the littles get easier? Can these families join you at kid-friendly places halfway? Or (your ideas here)?
If that's another cascade of no, then will any family members come to see you if explicitly invited? What if you put in some of your budgeted money as an incentive? "We all want to see you — we'll buy your ticket" is no less inclusive or bond-y than traveling to them.
If they decline, then embrace the idea that your reason for staying put is just as good as theirs — or theirs just as good as yours — and release yourself of both guilt and resentment. A useful mantra for little-kid years: "After all ... tomorrow is another phase."