The Truth About Managing Expectations on Vacation: 4 Things You Need to Know

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Inside: How to give yourself grace – managing expectations on family vacation.

Irritated, I reached for my daughter’s arm to hurry her along. The huge resort iguana captured her attention while I was rushing to get us to the pool.

I felt my arm brush the coke bottle in her hand and heard the loud crash of shattering glass on the sidewalk, where several other families were also walking.

As I looked at my daughter, I could feel my face flush with frustration. I saw the worry in her eyes. I waved an employee over and profusely apologized.

Glass shards and sticky soda surrounded our feet. And then I saw the bright red blood pooling in her brand-new, white sandals.

Worried, yet also exasperated, I took her back to our room to clean her foot. Not only had we made a mess, but now we were running late to meet my husband. We were aggravated and arguing about who was at fault. And to make matters worse, I couldn’t find the Band-Aids.

Ahhhh, family vacation.

Managing Expectations

Admittedly, I struggle managing expectations on family vacation. Maybe you do, too.

When we travel with family, we know what we think it should be. We expect storybook experiences. Picture-perfect moments. Smooth sailing.

The truth is, while we may be getting away from stress and the daily grind, mishaps still happen.

Things go awry. Tempers may flair. And sometimes, someone drops a coke bottle, and we lose our marbles.

While I honestly didn’t expect a perfect family vacation, I did let some frustrating moments get the best of me.

Why?

Because I wasn’t managing my expectations.

This is one of the biggest ways I learn my life lessons: expecting one thing and getting something different.

I’ve come to this conclusion: The universe reminds me of how life works by giving me multiple opportunities to Breathe and Reboot each day.

As usual, I had plenty of opportunities to practice managing expectations during this perfectly imperfect family vacation.

While I was dealing with my imperfect self and my imperfect family, I was reminded of four things:

Life Isn’t Perfect, Even In Paradise

We all know this. Life is never perfect.

But I think sometimes we can still fall into this space where we’re having a great time, excited and happy, and then something happens:

Your child talks back or throws a fit. Your spouse snaps gruffly. Incensed, you throw your hands in the air and exclaim “Why can’t we just get along?”

Or maybe it’s you. Maybe you’re up and ready to get the family fun started, but you can’t rouse them from bed to save your life.

Or you want to parasail, and they want to lounge at the pool.

What if Montezuma’s Revenge takes hold of your husband while you’re stuck inside because of a three-day tropical depression in Cancun?

No matter what beautiful, amazing, or perfect destination you visit, life happens. It’s never perfect. Life is still life wherever you go, so you must remember to roll with the punches.

No matter where we go or what we do, we’re still humans that sometimes say the wrong things and make mistakes.

When this happens, you gotta Breathe and Reboot, baby.

Everyone Else Loses Their Marbles, Too

It’s easy to look at other families and think, “They are getting it right.” “Their life seems perfect.” “Why aren’t we like them?” “We should be doing more.”

On our trip, I watched parents spend hours taking video of their children digging in the sand.

Some parents constructed elaborate sandcastles on the beach with their kiddos. Happy mommies and happy littles ate ice cream cones together every afternoon.

“I bet they don’t snap at their kids for dropping coke bottles,” I thought sadly. “I must suck because I don’t build sand castles.”

And my daughter rarely wanted to go for ice cream.

Clearly, something was wrong with me.

As I watched other families’ “best moments,” I kept thinking of my “worst moments.”

It bothered me a lot.

Until later, when I started paying more attention. I noticed something. Everyone else had their own “coke bottle” moments, too.

The mom at the beach, wagging her finger in her daughter’s face, saying, “Shut it! Stop talking! You talk too much!”

The mom at the pool, hastily smearing sunscreen on her son’s face, saying between clenched teeth, “Okay, so apparently, you want to get sunburned.”

The stressed-out couple with the crying toddler, muttering terse words to each other.

The overly-doting dad who told his disengaged wife to get up off her A** and pick up the baby.

The mom who snapped at the dad in frustration at dinner because she was “doing it all.”

These moments caused me to flinch. One, because it it was flat-out painful to witness. Two, because it was like looking in a mirror.

Likely, what I observed was one of their worst moments. Anyone who saw my “coke bottle” incident probably flinched as well.  

The thing is, we all have moments where we stumble. Moments where we could do better. Much better. But instead, we lose our marbles.

Giving Grace

My “coke bottle” moment left me with a great deal of remorse and shame.

“Why couldn’t I do better?” “Why do I let my frustration show?” “Am I ruining my child’s life?”

I’m kidding with that last one. Mostly.

After I washed her foot and found the Band-Aids, I took my girl in my arms and apologized. I explained how my frustration got the best of me and I promised to do better.

As usual, she rebounded.

Me? Not so much. I continued to beat myself up.

Later that day, I took her down to the beach. The ocean captivated her. I stood back in awe and watched her dig her toes into the sand as waves crashed over her feet.

The water mesmerized her. The moment mesmerized me.

It’s a memory I will cherish forever.

I watched her revel in joy and realized I needed to give myself grace and forgive myself for my misstep.

I couldn’t – and shouldn’t – hold on to my remorse. Otherwise, I would miss out on the good things. Beautiful things.

So I took a deep breath and let it go.

I committed to being more intentional about managing our time and my emotions. I promised myself that I would lighten up.

So for the next three days, I watched my daughter swim like a fish, try amazing new foods (like octopus,) and drink Shirley Temples like a boss.

I let go of expectations regarding how things should go. I opened up to be fully present and go with the flow.

It made all the difference.

We are human. We fall short. Of course, it’s important to strive to be better people and better parents.

But when we fall short, we need to show grace. To ourselves. And to others. But we need to show grace. To ourselves. And to others.

What Really Matters

Even witnessing the “fails” of people and parents, it was still easy to look around and see these families enjoying amazing experiences and creating beautiful memories.

Perfection isn’t making those experiences amazing. No.

What makes the experiences amazing is that they are taking the time to be together.

To slow down. See new sites. To relax and have fun.

To eat great food, whether it’s ice cream or octopus.

And watch big, fat iguanas in the gardens.

So if you, too, struggle with managing expectations on vacation, or in general, keep this in mind. Remember these things when you lose your marbles.

And if when you do lose your marbles, remember you can always take a breath, give yourself grace, and reboot. xo

Need a daily reminder to Breathe and Reboot? Download the Breathe and Reboot Manifesto printable below!

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