Pack your patience: top seven tips for surviving and enjoying a vacation with the in-laws

Newswise — Winston-Salem, N.C. -- When imagining your dream vacation, you might not picture your mother-in-law sitting beside you on the beach. But, taking a vacation with the in-laws can be just the ticket for building stronger relationships with extended family, says Wake Forest University Professor of Counseling Samuel T. Gladding.

Those who are skeptical can look toward President Obama as an example of how vacationing with—or even living with—your mother-in-law can strengthen family ties.

Vacations are about creating shared memories, says Gladding, who is the author of numerous books on family counseling and teaches courses on family counseling and group counseling.

Time spent together on the beach or at another vacation place can help children bond with grandparents, Gladding says. “If you don’t have some exposure to extended family, you will never truly get to know them. It takes time, effort and expense to be in the same place with them. The dividend is that you get to know them and then you can build a relationship. That’s how people grow.”

Connecting with extended families is important because family members have skills, contacts and abilities beyond those found in nuclear families, he adds. Tapping into that family power is a good idea, he says.

The key to making a shared vacation a positive experience is “purposeful planning.”

Gladding offers seven tips for surviving—and enjoying— a vacation with the in-laws.

1. Plan the right activities. Arrange constructive activities that involve interaction, such as cooking or playing board games. A Gladding family favorite is charades because it is silly and makes people laugh. When people laugh together, they create good memories that help build relationships.

2. Change a mantra. If your mantra is, “This will be the worst seven days of my life,” it probably will be. Replace pessimistic thoughts with a more positive message to yourself such as, “This will be a fun experience,” or, “The next few days will be an interesting adventure.”

3. Don’t plan to spend every minute with the group. Set aside time to go out to eat or do some other favorite activity with your own immediate family. It’s okay to say, “For this block of time, we want to have just our small family together.” If you set expectations in advance, no one will be surprised when you take a break on Tuesday night to go play miniature golf. It also gives the grandparents some space they might appreciate just as much as you do.

4. Give your children some freedom. Let them know you expect them to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa, but set up signals to use when something becomes really tiring, boring or just uncomfortable, so you can help. Reward them by letting them choose activities they want to do on their own.

5. Remember you have choices. You can’t choose your family, but you can choose how you act around them. Ask yourself how you can make it better or have fun with the experience.

6. Share stories. Stories help individuals discover more about their heritage and how they fit into the fabric of the family.

7. Debrief on the way home. Ask A. “What went well?” B. “What didn’t go well?’” C. “What could we do differently to make it more A than B?” Who knows? Traveling with the in-laws could become a new family tradition.