The biggest mistake you might make in your next family vacation

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Jun 7, 2016

Photo by: Darwin Vegher

“My time with Colin isn’t going like I hoped. I keep trying to bring up big topics and he hardly responds.”

My husband Dave’s friend, Doug, was in a panic. To commemorate his son Colin’s sixteenth birthday, Doug told Colin he’d take him anywhere in the US for a three-day vacation. Just the two of them.

Doug had visions of long conversations. Deep sharing.

Colin was more interested in seeing movies and tracking down the best cheesecake New York had to offer.

Doug’s text to Dave was punctuated with anxiety. For months, Doug and his wife had saved up for this trip. So far this vacation wasn’t yielding the relational R.O.I. that Doug had anticipated.

Or was it?

Based on research we’ve done for The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, I suggested Dave text back this response: “Totally understand. Colin’s a good kid. More important than what you do or talk about together is the way Colin feels around you. He’ll remember how he feels long after he’s forgotten about the cheesecake.”

The deeper purpose of family activities

It’s not that family events and activities don’t matter. It’s that their value comes from being a platform for your kids to know you’re crazy about them. You really care. You care so much that even when your kids kick away from you, or rebuff your attempts to connect with them, you don’t withdraw.

You stay present.


Even reaching out toward them.

The real value of family vacations is not in the activity. It's for your kids to know you're crazy about them. (tweet that)

I’m guessing you want a positive, life-giving, long-term relationship with your children. Think about other relationships in your life that offer that to you. Most likely the magnet that draws you to those people is more about how they make you feel about yourself and less about what you’ve actually done together.

In between seeing the sights or relaxing at the lake, your next family vacation offers all sorts of windows to let your kids know how much you value them:

At mealtimes: Ask everyone to put away their devices (including you!) and give each other eye contact. If conversation lags, bring along a deck of cards or let one (and only one) cell phone be used for a family game (one of the Powells’ favorite cell phone apps to play together at mealtime is Heads Up!).

On car or plane rides: Look for tech-free and even book-free windows for family conversations and simple fun. The Powells have spent hours together in the car with the low-tech “alphabet game” (looking for letters on signs and license plates) or the higher-tech 94 seconds app.

At bedtime: Take a bit of extra time to connect with each child. Ask them what they enjoyed most about the day, or what they would change about it. Pray more than your cursory “regular” (and often rushed) bedtime prayer, thanking the Lord for specific qualities you appreciate about your child.

On your next vacation, don’t make this mistake of focusing so much on what your family DOES together that you miss out on the chance to let your family know how much you LIKE them.

What other ideas do you have for building connection during family travel?

Want more? Check out our Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, created to help you navigate parenting with insights from our Sticky Faith research.

Get Our Family Guide Here

Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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