Every spring my husband and I have the same disagreement: He’s ready to plan a big summer vacation, while I fret about the time off and the cost. In my mind, it’s an extravagance, given that our kids are not far from high school and college. Is it wrong for us to spend money on something so frivolous as a vacation?
Caroline: Funny how something as innocuous as a vacation can lead to tensions in marriage, but it surely can! It stems from how we were raised. Did you camp in state parks or travel to beach destinations? Were you financially even able to take a vacation, or was money tight, and you vacationed by visiting relatives? In my family, vacation meant relaxing on a Gulf Coast beach for a week, doing nothing but sunbathing and reading. But, for Tom’s family, vacation meant cross-country trips packed with activity, including yearly trips to Disneyland. So when we think about summer vacation, we start on two completely different pages. The beauty of marriage is that it can stretch us. It has taken 20 years, and I still don’t think I could convince Tom to camp in the Rockies, but he has discovered the joy of a good novel with his toes in the sand. And I was easy to convert to the thrills of mega-amusement parks. Our kids are all the better for it, since they’ve been able to experience the power of God in the ocean surf and the beauty and vastness of our great country as we’ve driven across it.
Tom: In our opinion, it is right and just to take a vacation within your means. We certainly do not advocate going into debt for a lavish trip, but using what God has blessed you with can be a real blessing for your family. There is great value in escaping the work-a-day world together and enjoying each other’s company. Friendships between your children can deepen, and fun family traditions and unforgettable memories emerge. My most treasured memories of my mom and dad (now both deceased) and my five siblings all come from those cross-country jaunts we took years ago. So Caroline and I have consciously put off certain house projects to have the means to take vacations, and we’ve never regretted it. In our minds, the kids won’t look back on their years at home and say, “Wow! I sure love that bathroom Mom and Dad remodeled.” But they will remember when Dad’s favorite hat flew off and was shredded in Splash Mountain.
John Paul II explained their value this way: “Vacations should be … seen as significant moments in the very existence of the person. In moments of rest, and especially during vacation, man is invited to become aware of the fact that work is a means and not the end of life. … Man, freed from the pressing tasks of daily life, has the opportunity to rediscover his own contemplative dimension recognizing God’s imprints in nature and especially in other human beings. This is an experience that opens him to a renewed attention to people who live near him, beginning with his family” (Angelus message, July 21, 1996).
Caroline: We suggest a compromise for those who find vacations frivolous: Include our faith as you plan. Is there a national shrine nearby? Or how about the birthplace of a great American saint? Google “Catholic pilgrimage sites in the U.S.,” and let your trip be a chance to grow in knowledge and love for each other and for our Catholic Church.
Tom and Caroline McDonald are family-life coordinators
of the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.