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Taking the Kids

Great Expectations, Grand Disappointments

July 03, 1994|EILEEN OGINTZ

Jill Waterman was counting on magic. She got aggravation. The trip was supposed to be a much-needed break with her twin boys. Even better, her parents were going along and together they planned to re-create, for Waterman's sons, their mother's favorite childhood vacation.

But the UCLA child psychologist found that the much-anticipated trip to Central California wasn't anything like what she'd remembered from her own childhood vacation. The wilderness area was crowded and hot. Her aging parents couldn't keep up with their two active 8-year-old grandsons.

"I wanted to give my kids the same wonderful experience I'd had, not taking into account that they're different people than I and that the experience has changed," Waterman said. "The kids had fun but I didn't have a very good time."

"Expectations are an adult thing, not a kid thing," said Sharon Berry, a child psychologist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Kids don't set themselves up to be disappointed like adults," Berry said. "They don't have ideas about vacation that are more global than 'Let's have fun.' I've never heard a kid say they've had a disappointing vacation. But I hear that from parents all the time."

That may be because parents' expectations have likely never run higher, as they struggle to sandwich family vacations into busy work schedules and tight budgets.

But as expectations soar, so does the potential for disappointment. No one plans for squabbles in the car, the stress of spending so much time together or for sickness and crabby moods. Then there's the itinerary. It may be so ambitious that there's no time to relax.

That's no fun. It's always a good idea to have plenty of options for times when things don't go as planned. Instead of getting upset, calmly switch gears. If the hotel is horrible, look for another. Instead of sightseeing in the heat, spend the day in the hotel pool. Forgo the museum for a less-pressured afternoon at the park. When too much family togetherness has left everyone on edge, call a time-out and work out a strategy to spend a few hours apart. Everyone will be a lot happier.

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