There you are, finally lying on a chaise by the pool, a book at your side, a tall glass of fancy green smoothie decorated with a piece of pineapple. It’s finally family vacation time. But instead of sitting back and reading, you’re checking your phone every other minute and looking to see what everyone else is doing around you. Is it time for lunch already? You get up to ask the kids if they’re hungry, then you check with the gym when you can book a session of Pilates.

Family vacation

A few years ago, I read about “vacation sabotage” in the New York Times. I couldn’t help but feel relieved that nothing was wrong with me. I obviously wasn’t the only one who had a hard time relaxing and getting my brain off the hamster wheel. 

In the past few years, I’ve become more aware of that phase at the beginning of every holiday; the difficulty of letting go of the daily grind; the addiction to hunting and scanning for any kind of stimulus, making it harder to relax and align.

Is family vacation even meant to involve complete relaxation for mothers?

They usually make me even more nervous, because having nothing to do with the kids can be really hard. Can they just sit and daydream at the beach with us? Of course not! They need and want action.

Family Vacation kids playing on the beachOn the first day of our family vacation in Sarges, my little son wanted to bike, to swim in the pool, to try surfing, to eat pizza and ice cream, and to play football with his dad all in one day.

We had to slow him down and teach him some patience, which made me think how overstimulated our kids are in everyday life and how hard it can be for them to relax and do nothing, too.

I’m often asked by other parents what plans we have for the weekend. But lately I’ve started intentionally having no plans. My husband and I stay home or go out for long walks with no particular schedule. We want our kids to experience boredom so they can think and play on their own without any readymade entertainment available.

Family Vacation Martinhal, kids beach Sagres

Back to Sarges and the family hotel we were staying in. I’ve stayed in many family hotels, but this one is designed with the real intention to give parents time and space to enjoy the simple things of living, like a slow breakfast while watching your kids right next to you bouncing on a trampoline, building sand castles or even taking a surf lesson. In Martinhal I could actually have spa with my kids and in the evening when I wanted that extra glass of wine and a quiet conversation with my hubby, I could actually have it while the kids were drawing and building lego, entertained on the side, but in the restaurant where we had dinner. Besides several indoor and outdoor swimming pools, Martinhal offers several outside playgrounds, tennis courts, and a football field with a trainer — not to mention the beach, which my kids absolutely loved. 

The problem was that I could not leave my “normal” context at home and I couldn’t endure the boredom.

I was feeling restless and nervous and didn’t know what to do with all this free time. I almost had an existential crisis. I picked a fight with my husband and even lost my appetite. I couldn’t help but think of all the chores and work I’d left behind while I was here on this holiday doing nothing… So how could I relax? Did I even deserve this holiday when I had left so many things at home undone? I started flirting with the idea of working during my holiday… just a little!

family holiday

My father once told me that there will always be things we want to do and won’t have time for: books we want to read, films we want to watch, and destinations we want to travel. But eventually we have to learn that we can’t do everything.

There will constantly be new things tempting us and we will realise we can’t do it all. We just have to accept that fact.

Sometime around day three of our family vacation, I decided I had to change the way I feel before ruining the whole trip. I knew I had to get over myself; to reach in and tap into whatever wisdom I had inside. But in order to do that, I had to spend some time alone. It was easy to explain all that to my husband, but not that easy to send my kids for half a day’s care at the Martinhal kids’ centre. 

Family vacation beach Sagres

See the thing is, as fun as the programme at the kids’ centre is, children just want to spend time with their parents.

My decision and determination were about to be sabotaged by the typical mother’s guilt, but I didn’t let it get in my way this time. And while my kids were playing pirates, seeking for treasures in the near forest, I spent a few hours aligning with myself, facing my doubts and fears, looking for clarity, doing nothing but being alone with myself.

And, for the record, I even stopped myself from going to the gym or opening my computer and Instagram. Instead, I just sat and acknowledged all that was going on in my head. I had to play it all out and honour all of it.

Family holiday travel

The next day, I kissed my husband goodbye in the morning and asked him to go and enjoy himself. He deserved a break too, so he went to play golf while the kids and I went to the beach. I had finally forgiven myself for all the things left unfinished back home. I restored my trust in the process and my own journey as it is at the moment; that I have the capacity to deal with everything that comes my way. I knew I deserved that holiday and I was ready to have fun and play.

That day we drew spirals in the sand, collected seashells, watched the low tide, made sand castles, and played with the waves. Then we had ice cream and lay on the beach, soaking in the sun, telling each other stories, and laughing till our stomachs hurt. I could feel my kids didn’t need entertainment or toys; all they needed was their mother, who was the best asset in their lives. 

family vacation beach kids Sagres

The same evening, my husband and I drank a whole bottle of wine and going back to our house, we made paper planes and danced till late, leaving the kids to run and scream without shushing them or keeping their bedtime routine. Then the four of us fell asleep in one bed. Life was back to normal and we were reminded that the most precious thing we have is the time we spend with each other.