Rabbi Ross. As mid-winter vacation approaches, my husband & I are once again preparing for the onslaught of complaints from our children. We don’t go to Florida, and pretty much survive the week by hiring babysitters so we can continue to work. Why should we go to Florida? It’s warmer? Big deal! We should take off work every time our kids are home? How will we pay the bills? “Everyone else goes on trips or to Florida, why can’t we?”, is one of the many complaints we receive. We were wondering what you think we should respond to our kids. Incidentally, we have a 13-year-old girl, 11 and 8 year old boys and a 4 year old. Thank you for all of your hard work. Rivkie - 5 Towns
One of the problems I’ve always suffered from is that I am not very politically correct. Please forgive me if this answer comes off a bit harsh.
I have close family in Eretz Yisrael and Lakewood, and if I showed them this question, they would be thoroughly confused. “What’s Mid-Winter vacation?” Additionally, there are many local families that live in the surrounding communities that also don’t have this problem. Why not? Because, they and their neighbors don’t go away on vacation.
The point I’m trying to convey is that, in a way, your children are correct. You live in the Five Towns, and they are surrounded by all the trappings and “norms” of this particularly affluent neighborhood. Then you tell them, “It’s not for us!” Imagine if you took a 4-year-old on a sightseeing trip to Oh Nuts! How well would that work out?
It could be that you had no choice when you moved to your neighborhood, or possibly it’s temporary. However, the fact remains that you live there now, and that’s what your kids are exposed to. I’m not saying there’s nothing you can do about your situation, rather I’m just trying to explain why your children might feel left-out, or envious of others.
As a side point, it’s interesting to note that the terms “want” and “need” are often used interchangeably with children. If a child is exposed to a certain environment in which the majority of their friends are going somewhere or getting something, then what we might have perceived as a “want” is in reality something the child might “need.”
Regarding the vacation, we can all agree that the 4-year-old does not require much of an explanation. Set up a playdate or two, and she’ll be fine. The other children require a bit more sensitivity regarding your situation.
When trying to explain, or discuss, something difficult with your children (for example, why you’re one of the only families that doesn’t go to Florida), there are two essential criteria. The first is that you need to listen to your children. The second is that you need to be honest with them. Remember, this holds true for any discussion that you may have with them.
Let’s discuss how to listen. A phrase that I hear from many parents is, “My kids just don’t listen!” Listening, like many other key skills, is a learned behavior. In order to teach our children how to listen, we need to listen to them when they talk! It’s not only when they’re older, we should listen to them all the time! Listening doesn’t mean giving in to them, or even agreeing with them, it means hearing and understanding their point, while giving them your undivided attention.
Here’s how to listen. First of all, make eye contact and stop everything else when they begin to talk. Second of all, don’t listen to respond, listen to understand. When they finish talking, wait a few seconds before responding. Oh, and in case I forgot, maybe put the cell phone away and don’t keep checking it.
The second criterion when having a discussion with your children, is being honest. Blaming the lack of vacations on something that’s untrue, can really hurt you in the long run. Telling your son, “I don’t want to take the family to Florida, since there are inappropriately dressed people”, is understandable. However, if you let your kids watch inappropriate videos, you’re being dishonest to yourself and your family. Alternatively, if you blame the lack of vacations on money, and then you go out and buy yourself the latest model Lexus, to your child it seems dishonest. Telling the truth to your children is one of the best ways to ensure that they will be honest, and even more importantly, that they will trust you.
Now, let’s try out a scenario for the situation you asked about initially. Your 13-year-old daughter might say, “It’s so frustrating! Everyone else on the block goes away, and we have to stay in this dumb house! I hate living here!”
How well were you listening? She made four points.
The next step would be to tell her, “I really understand you. I truly wish we were able to go away or do something special during winter vacation. Let me discuss this with Daddy, and see what we can do.” You shouldn’t be using this as a stalling tactic – I’m being serious. This is a chance for you to prove that you are a great mom/dad.
Her last two points, about the dumb house and the fact she hates living in it, don’t really require a response. There’s no need to start telling her the house is not dumb. It’s also a bad idea to bring up all the fun things she’s done in the house. She was just venting.
What should your final answer be? I have absolutely no clue. Maybe let her go away for a few days with grandparents? Possibly, you should actually go on a 2-day family trip? Check if she has any classmates or friends home and allow them to plan a fun day out. You can also offer her a special summer trip, if she is willing to be upbeat despite not going away? I’m sure you understand I can’t give you the perfect way to respond to her disappointment.
Wishing everyone that’s travelling a safe trip.
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.