It happens every year. One of your child’s friends takes his first trip to Disney. Your kid hears all about his magical experience from his first plane ride to meeting his favorite movie characters. Your kid comes home from school, asking when she gets to go to Disney. I used to feel guilty that Disney was a far-off goal for us as a family. My poor sweet-faced babies weren’t getting to have that magical experience that so many kids get to have.

My husband and I both work full-time, but we still make a modest living. We would have to save for years to be able to take a trip like that. And besides that, we have other, more important things to save for (retirement, for one). We dreamed we would build a house one day, and instead of saving for one trip, we could take many family trips around our home state of Michigan or drive to Florida for a beach vacation on a budget. These are all things we have ended up doing and my kids wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ve always known that a simple life is the happiest way to live. My grandparents and parents have been great role models in that regard. It’s difficult, though, not to get caught up in what other people are providing for their kids. I myself, in all my 32 years, have never stepped foot in the Magic Kingdom. I’ve survived and I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything.

It’s easy to get swept into the whirlwind of “keeping up with the Joneses” or to get stuck in the quicksand of your own self-pity. But once you pull yourself from the depths of that negative thinking, you realize that life is full of choices and that what you have chosen is what’s right for your family. I have a rewarding career that allows me to spend more time with my children than most other careers I could have chosen. It’s just that I can’t afford a bi-annual Disney trip with my kids on my salary.

But I am blessed in so many ways, and my children have had so many adventures because we chose to forego the pinnacle vacation for more affordable trips. We get to go each summer to Lake Michigan with my family. We stick mostly to simple, affordable activities like going to the beach and sightseeing. My kids love nothing more than playing in the sand and waves all day and getting a small ice cream cone in town at night. We’ve also been able to drive to Florida and stay twice right on the Gulf with the kids.

If you are able to take your kids to Disney, go for it. You’ve worked hard to provide a trip like that for your kids. And if you don’t take your kids to Disney, let that guilt slither right off your back and into the pits of whatever hell it came from. What matters most is the quality, joyful time you spend with your kids, no matter where that takes place.

Stephanie Lawrence

Stephanie is a loving wife and mother residing in southeast Michigan. She is a passionate educator, a loyal friend, and a small town girl at heart. When she's not shaping the minds of her students or spending time with her family, you can find her curled up with a good book, or whipping up something tasty in the kitchen.