Like any parent, I want to give my kids everything they need to be smart, capable, thoughtful people. My husband and I bought a house in a good school district. Signed them up for Girl Scouts, camps, and as many sports as our schedule allows.
These are all fine pursuits that I hope will make my daughters well rounded. But so much of how they turn out rides on the example we set for them as parents. It took a study we did at Project: Time Off a few years ago to realize that every time I unlocked my phone to check my work email I was unintentionally setting a terrible example.
Working parents may think they are shielding their children from work stress, but a commanding six-in-seven children report seeing their parents bring work stress home. Further, 75 percent of kids say that their parent is unable to stop working while at home.
Where I thought checking in on work while they munched on chicken nuggets (and ignored broccoli) was innocuous, it was those numbers that made me rethink my position. If I send the message that I found my job stressful or negative, what association would they grow up with about work?
As a working mom, I want my daughters to be empowered to make their own choices. If they want to work and follow a passion and have a family, I don’t want them to be daunted at the prospect because I was stressed or not present as they were growing up.
My concerns about burnout were reinforced when we interviewed a series of family experts about the results. “Overwork has all sorts of negative consequences,” shared Michael Gurian, family and couples counselor and co-founder of the Gurian Institute. “It’s a mental and physical stress issue, and if you have kids, it’s dangerous for them.”
I also realized that we needed quality time. I could put down the phone for the two hours we had together in the evenings, but I couldn’t force that time to be quality. The fights over how many bites of broccoli they had to endure to get dessert is probably what they’ll remember most from this time.
That’s where vacation comes in. Vacation isn’t just about getting away from work; it’s about coming back to yourself and your family. It’s where I get to be the mom I want to be (the kind in the Jif commercial, naturally). It’s where they get to just be kids. It’s where we have real conversations—without intending to—about their lives and their hopes and their fears. It’s where we get to be the best version of ourselves.
It came as no surprise that in our survey, kids ranked taking a trip together as the top choice to spend time with their parents. Also expected, kids overwhelmingly say their moods and their parents’ moods improve dramatically when they are on vacation.
“[Children’s] moods are different and it takes a while to get them out of their shells,” explained Dr. Lotte Bailyn, professor emerita at MIT and another therapist we interviewed. “The best relationships come when there’s enough quantity time to drive quality interactions.”
Gurian added two strong reasons to add a vacation to the family calendar: “One, you will be less stressed, so you’re just going to be a better parent. Two, your kids will get all of this time with you, all this bonding and attachment, making them more stable, secure, healthy kids.”
Fights over broccoli won’t last forever. But the effects of work burnout might. Why not put the phone down and have a conversation about what your next family adventure should be?