In 2014, on the day after Christmas, we loaded up the van and drove to Destin, Florida to spend five days with 26 family members. It was a first for all of us. While that may sound overwhelming, it was a very memorable time that we were eager to duplicate. This first annual Vance Vacation was aimed at spending quality time together to build our family community. It worked.
If you think you would like to grow the relationships in your extended family, this might be just what you need. Below are some of the nitty gritty details explaining how we planned the housing, food, pictures, activities and intentional relationship building. A list detailing how we get it done is included in a Vance Vacation pdf for NMN that we use each for each trip. (Sign up for the VIP list to receive free downloads as they become available.)
Every year in the days following Christmas, we repeat this time of community building and memory making. It is the perfect time for the students and teachers among us to spend part of our school break. It is also restful after a busy holiday season. Most of the time we run away to the beach. It is unifying because away from our routines we can enjoy long conversations and meals together. As we convene for meals and together time, we often share what fun things we have done so far. Conversations are highly encouraged. In fact, as the days go by, I encourage everyone to think of someone they have not had a conversation with yet. This could be a prompt to grab them and go for a walk on the beach. These trips are aimed at building our family community.
Living nine hours from my siblings, my immediate family only manages about one trip to see family each year. Once in town, we spend quite a bit of time driving from one family member’s home to another, juggling schedules, and making sure we see everyone. The family time during these trips is quite different because we are all in one place for a set amount of time without school and job commitments.
Years ago when my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary arrived, I asked my mother if she would like me to plan a big party or a family trip. She said that she knew what she wanted, but she would ask my dad and call me right back. The phone rang in about ten seconds. She said, “We’ll take the trip.” You would have thought she had selected a big prize or won a jackpot! Perhaps she had!! Since the first Vance Vacation was such a success, we decided to make these trips an annual tradition. One unique feature of this annual trip is that the adult kids split the cost of this trip between us. We don’t let my parents pay anything. My siblings and I think that this is just something little we can do to thank them. If you are involved in something similar, but your parents pay for the trip, consider making a change. I often wonder when some adult children intend to treat their parents. Is it realistic for parents to pay for everything for all of their lives? When do adult children start trying to demonstrate gratitude? Do adult children anticipate always letting their parents pay for everything? Just a thought.
Each year my youngest brother, Titus, and I work tirelessly for weeks to find a home near the beach that would house such a large family and accommodate our needs. Normally, we hunt for 7-8 bedrooms. Some years we looked for an elevator or other particulars. Finding a large kitchen, eating area and couch space is a non-negotiable. Together, we make sure we have plenty to do while we are together. One year Titus requested that all the adults take a “strengths test” before arriving. We spent one night going over each person’s strength profile. The point of this exercise was to focus on each person’s strengths and find common strengths among us. I couldn’t help but think how helpful this kind of test would be for any married couple or a couple anticipating marriage. It would give each person a better understanding of how to relate to their new spouse. However, it is really helpful for anyone at in stage of their relationship. The next year the oldest nine grandchildren took this same strengths test and we grouped all the adults and grandchildren into strengths groups. It proved to be a very bonding time. The outcome was positive and relationship building.
Another night was spent honoring my parents. When the original six Vances lived in the same home, we regularly had Appreciation Nights. In honor of those good memories, Titus and I planned an appreciation night for my parents. The fact that their four children, spouses and grandchildren were all in one room speaking of their influence allowed us to see that they did a very commendable job of parenting. They felt deeply appreciated.
Here are some answers to some practical questions you might have when you consider this for your family. With four siblings and spouses, families and parents, we divided up the cost based on number of rooms used. When considering our portion of the costs, it was very affordable because we were sharing the costs and booking off-season at the beach. For example, my sister and I paid for two rooms each. One room was for Tim and me while the other room was my part of the two cousin’s rooms. Titus and I aim to have rooms for all the couples and two bunk type rooms. One bunk room is for the girl cousins and the other is for the boy cousins. When we started off, my sister and I had the older cousins. My brother’s kids stayed in their rooms. Things are different each year. Currently, we have two married couples in the cousin group. The family continues to grow and change.
Sometimes money related communication can be sticky. Half of the money is collected as we book the house in early fall. The other half is due right before Thanksgiving. Titus and I take turns being responsible for the booking. Each of the siblings are prompt to pay. This is important.
Everyone brings snacks, gifts to exchange($25 each), and clothes for the family photo shoot. An essentials list invited each of us to bring needed bulk items for the group. For example, one family group bought garbage bags, toilet paper, paper towels for the week for the whole group. To make this easy to mimic, use our Vance Vacation pdf for NMN to plan your family meals, shop essentials ahead of time and create a family photo shoot plan. Let me say here that there are several really great photographers in our bunch with the gear and tripods to do a great job. However, it would be worth every penny to hire someone to do a photo shoot for your family. Placing a high value on taking family pictures will be something you will never regret. Let’s be honest, family pictures are usually taken at wedding, funerals and special birthdays. Sometimes they are never taken. Include it in the cost of the trip and consider it a gift! In years to come it will be even more meaningful. Each year the photos taken were compiled into a photo book for each of us. These books are treasured.
Breakfast is our family’s favorite meal of any day. Breakfasts and dinners were together as a whole group. Lunch was always OYO(on your own.) Each family took a meal or two during the week. So, my immediate family prepared, served and cleaned up two meals. The rest of the week we enjoyed what others created.
Obviously, we took pictures on the beach. Clothing colors were coordinated. Some of the grandchildren braved the chilly temperatures to enjoy a somewhat heated pool. Other family members shopped, rode bikes, and went sight-seeing. Evenings included together activities such as the strengths finder activities, the gift exchange and board games. The evening together times proved overwhelmingly memorable. Most of the intense laughter came in those evening times.
UPDATE: My parents have gone to be with Jesus in the last few years. Both of them expressed how much they greatly loved our family trips. While they fussed, we never let them pay for the trips. This was just a small way we could thank them for all they had done for us. I know that they felt very loved and appreciated because we were gifting them this time together. When we started this Vance Vacation tradition, I could not think why we did not do it earlier. It has done more to build our family community than anything we have ever done together. Some families only gather for weddings and funerals. While we were together a few times a year, we thought our extended family needed a regular memory making time annually.
If your family has never done this, please consider starting to do it this year. These trips meant so much to my parents as well as to all of the rest of us. We are creating memories. We are building family. The younger ones that are coming along are building tight bonds with each other as well as the adults. Now our family includes adopted children, new marriages and new babies. The joy of being part of a strong family community cannot be overstated.
Being a family means you are a part of something very wonderful.
It means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.
Read more on HOME and FAMILY in my two books:
Nurturing My Nest: Intentional Parenting and Custom Built Homeschooling
Hum of the Home: Routines and Rhythms of Homemaking
Join my husband and me for a conversation on this topic on our podcast Embrace Your Everyday.