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Are We There Yet? Study Examines The Family Vacation From Hell


(NC)—You've done your research, made your reservations, and packed your bags. You're going to have a wonderful family vacation, right?

Think again.

"Canadian society has created this concept of holidays as the opportunity to build family memories and family togetherness," says Susan Shaw, a sociologist at the University of Waterloo. "People believe in the ideal family vacation. And this belief may set them up for disappointment."

Shaw studies the highs and lows of family holidays. Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), her project will help Canadians plan vacations that actually feel like leisure time.

Shaw believes that holiday disagreements are often related to parents' faith in the family vacation as a getaway with "the goal of learning to give and take, respecting each other, and understanding people's needs."

These are positive aims, Shaw emphasizes, since, when they are met, families feel like they're getting along well and learning more about one another in an environment that fosters feelings of togetherness.

But parents' ideals may conflict with children's hopes and expectations, triggering disastrous holiday fighting. After all, while parents tend to be focused on building family bonds, children usually just want to have fun—their definition of which may differ from their parents'.

Even if parents have tailored family plans to interest everyone involved, many children often prefer the sense of independence that comes from doing something by themselves. "They're not thinking, 'This time together will be good for my family'," says Shaw, who found that many parents believed their children would appreciate the focus on togetherness as they grew up.

"Family vacationing for parents is work: it can be fun and satisfying, but it's not really relaxation in the normal sense because its success is so important to them," she says. "Parents often come home from a vacation and feel they need another one."

Shaw's research will help overcome this feeling by guiding travel consultants as they design family travel packages, and counselors as they negotiate conflicts between parents and children.

You'll find more information about projects supported by SSRHC on the Council's Web site at www.sshrc.ca.

- News Canada

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