The duffel bags are filled to the brim with every type of shoes we might need, rain gear, binoculars, insect nets, and beach towels. Tiny children’s backpacks are crammed into every nook of the hatchback, and the backseat is an array of dolls, lollipops, crayons, and devices that promise hours of lasting entertainment. Everyone is overflowing with enthusiasm, but I find my chest is tight and anxiety is close to overtaking me.

“Me ready for lollpop,” our two-year-old announces from the backseat, just three minutes into the four-hour drive.

“You can’t have a lollipop until you eat your apple!” I snarl in an angry yell.

“Geez, what’s up with Mom,” our oldest utters under her breath.

This is the moment of revelation: If I don’t release some of this vacation-induced anxiety, I’m going to ruin this whole week for everyone.

This is the plight of the mom who aims to remember every miniscule item that might possibly be needed for a week of vacation – right down to extra batteries for the baby monitors. The rest of the family overflows with excitement, while mom-stress threatens to steal the joy from the experience.

Mom-stress leads to snapping at excited children. It leads to a vacation that elicits the question, “Is this even worth the effort?”  We know it’s all worth it in the deepest recesses of our minds, but we’re so overwhelmed by the formidable task of planning and executing the details of the vacation that it’s easy to lose sight of the joy that comes with the experience.

So how do we keep the raging monster of the stressed out mama from ruining the whole week? The strategies below are simple steps to reduce the stress that comes with pulling together the last-minute vacation details, as well as some thoughts to consider throughout the course of the adventure. No mom really wants to ruin the whole week by forcing her family to walk on eggshells. . . .

Clear your schedule two days prior to your actual vacation.

Think of this as a pre-vacation warm-up. It’s wise not to plunge into a vacation on overdrive. Two days prior to your departure, make it a point to clear your schedule as much as possible. Take a day off work if necessary. Don’t fill the evenings with events.

Leaving open time throughout these days will enable you to pack thoughtfully, establish order in the home before your departure, work on the ever-present laundry pile, and head to the store for any last-minute vacation items. While it may seem like a waste to tack two days onto the beginning of your vacation, intentionally slowing your pace prior to your trip will put you in the right frame of mind to enjoy your time away.

Make your packing list ten days in advance.

While some parents hold onto a master packing list and pull it out for every family trip, it’s practical to consider that different vacations require different lists. Ever-changing children have ever-changing needs. The baby booster seat and bottles that appeared on last year’s list are quickly scratched off the list as your little one grows. Making your list ten days in advance provides time to think about what you might forget, and it provides plenty of time to shop for needed items.

Research local amenities near your vacation spot.

Check out the resources near your destination. Determine whether there are any large grocery stores or chain stores nearby. This might save you from hauling a heavy load of groceries from home, and it might alleviate stress to know you can purchase emergency supplies easily. Determine whether there are affordable options for dining out in the area, and consider how this might change your packing needs.

Make laugher your first response.

When your husband accidentally drops your favorite cooler into the river, your daughter can’t get down from the top bunk of her bed, or your youngest dumps a whole container of bubbles on the kitchen floor, practice laughing over the silliness of mishaps. Laughter is a far better response than screaming. Laughter also reminds us to give thanks. Give thanks for the blessing of children. Give thanks for the change of scenery. Give thanks for the opportunity to get away.

Give yourself permission to take breaks.

Most vacations include long spans of time in close proximity with family. While this is part of the joy of the journey, it can be wearing. It’s ok to take an extra-long shower, rise early for a quiet cup of coffee on the porch, or slip out for a short walk when things grow tense or your toddler is on his seventh melt-down of the afternoon.

Keep it in perspective.

As we pull away from the comfort of our home, I regularly remind myself that everything will be just fine, even if I forget the nightlights or the potholders. We’re on adventure. We’re going for a very short span of time. We’ll manage. The goal of a vacation is a relaxing escape filled with light-hearted moments. Perfection is not the goal; memory-making is the goal. Plan to the best of your ability, and remember to let yourself slow down and enjoy the change of scenery.

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Stacey Pardoe

Stacey Pardoe lives with her husband Darrell and two children in western Pennsylvania. In addition to being a wife and mother, she is a writer, mentor, and teacher. She is passionate about encouraging others to pursue their passions and make an impact in the culture. She enjoys hiking, camping, running, and spending time outside with her family.

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