Lessons from Family Vacation

We are back from our annual family vacation — this year, a week in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. The trip was relaxing and exciting, filled with high adventure and lots of down time too.

What made the vacation especially unique and wonderful was that this year we went with a lot of other families from our neighborhood, so we (Paul and me and our children) were there with some of our very closest friends. Everyday, the boys would wander down the neighborhood streets to the miniature golf or to fish at the large mountain lake. We played tennis and rode bikes, had a grand hiking adventure with friends and then, a few days later, a harrowing tubing saga on a nearby swollen creek. (We all survived. Thank you, Lord.)

One morning, as I lay in bed listening to the sounds of my sleeping babies next to me, I offered my morning prayers and embraced the beauty of time away from home. Here I was, surrounded by my husband and children, in this home away from home. All the same people, a totally different scene.

He restores my soul, I thought to myself in that peace-filled moment. He restores my soul.

And then, a few days later, I had my traditional family vacation private emotional cave-in. Who knows why? Mothers everywhere can probably relate.

It just came out of the blue, those emotions. The tears. Maybe it’s just part of being a mom, maybe I’m just uniquely “blessed,” but sometimes even when I’m trucking along in perfect fashion, it all catches up to me. Maybe it was the packing. Maybe that there was more to keep up with. Just because you aren’t at home doesn’t mean you don’t keep the same mental stats of who is where and what are they up to (and let’s admit, when you’re in new environs it’s even more intense).

This year I didn’t see the meltdown coming because, well, this vacation was actually on the easy side. Isabel is three. Henry is six. They are so much easier to manage than they once were. My big boys really are big — up each morning, they’d hop on their bikes and find friends for fishing and golf.

But it’s the reality of it all — even in the most relaxing times, there is still responsibility, there is still stress. Not bad stress — it’s okay to admit you have stress, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing — but the reality that life with children, with caring for others and running a household (even if it’s your log cabin vacation rental) does come at a price. The price isn’t too high, but family life (like all things of quality) isn’t cheap. It really does cost everything.

Is it bad to admit that life is tough, that this season is beautiful and amazing and also intense? I don’t think so. It’s just the truth.

All the more reason, I’m happy to realize, that I lean on Jesus. The minute I start thinking I’ve got it all figured out, that’s the minute I don’t need anything — or anyone — beyond myself. That’s a dangerous place to be.

“We’d all like to be saved by our own efforts, to be strong and robust, to boast about our successes…,” writes Fr. Jaques Philipe in “The Way of Trust and Love” (a beautiful retreat-book based on the writings of Terese of Lisieux), “…We cannot be saved by what we do; we can only be saved by grace, when God’s freely given love comes, take hold of us and transforms us, sometimes gently and progressively, but sometimes in a spectacular way.”

For now, I am aware, acutely so, of my reliance on God’s grace. In this season, it is such a practical need. Even on the really good days, days that are so much easier than a year ago, than six months ago!, I can’t get through without God’s mercy and peace. May I never think I can do anything without it.

This first appeared in The Southern Cross.


  1. Danielle M. says:

    I totally understand. Yes, things are always great compared to a year ago, but still… Vacations by there very nature are tough. You are in a foreign place, the kids think we’re on vacation, so the rules don’t really apply. This is why, since our ids are still in the youngish category (4-12), we always rent the same beach house every year for a week. This way, we get our vacation, but it is predictable for me. I know what to expect, what the activities will be, what I need to prepare for, etc. Everyone has a great time, but I don’t have to always have my mom radar on for the unexpected. I admire you for being willing to venture into the unknown vacation land 🙂

  2. I needed to read this today. It is one of those days (started lat week) where it is just tough dealing with little ones, especially one in particular who throws tantrums non stop. I want to tell others, I am stressed, but afraid that they will just tell me it is my thought for having so many kids so close together…or if they do not say it, they pity me and think all that. Sigh. Can’t a mom just have a stressful day or week?
    I would love for you to write a post on how one can ask for help, but not feel like one is going to be reprimanded for having kids and loving one’s faith!

  3. scotch meg says:

    Sometimes I think we only melt down when it’s safe – for you, on vacation, perhaps. That is, the family isn’t going to fall apart if you get emotional. Under the ordinary stresses of life, you (I!) have to hold together, do what is necessary, keep emotions in check. On vacation, perhaps, you (I!) can afford the luxury of letting go.

    Last year we had that predictable, relaxing vacation. This year… things are different. People are coming and going, the situation at home is always changing, and we have not even been able to build in a week of being together. I know I should be grateful that the kids and their dad are all going to make The Big Climb together – this will be very special for my husband – but I’m looking around and wondering when I will get to take the breath I need.

    I suspect there’s a message somewhere in there for me. Just haven’t figured out what it is yet.

  4. Beautiful, and right on, as usual Rachel!

  5. Thanks, Rach! I love your ability to put to words what so many of us experience. I love that line, “It really does cost everything”. I definitely romanticized our month-long vacation this year and underestimated the stress and toll it would take. While worth it to be with family, it cost me all I had and all I had reserved.

  6. I really needed to hear this! I had my own meltdown a few days ago and this serves as such a refreshing reminder that He is the only one who can bring peace. Thank you!