Family vacation time

As summer approaches, many workers are facing two very important questions.  Where will the family go on vacation this year and what will I do about all of the work that will pile up while I’m on vacation?  While the first question has been around as long as anyone can remember, the second question has exploded over the past 20 years, with it taking on an added dimension in the last decade, with the proliferation of smartphones connected to your work email.

Before we had always-on wireless internet connections, we had different problems like how many times you could play car games like alphabet and find the states before the kids finally lost it and you had to find that playland to let them blow off some steam.  As parents we thought we were in heaven when we found the nine-inch TV with built in video cassette player that could plug into the cigarette lighter.  At least it was like heaven until the eight-year-old, five-year-old and two-year-old had different ideas about which video they should watch next!

Today the question centers on how much we should limit electronics to make sure everyone actually interacts with the family during family vacation.  To parents, one of the funniest, and at the same time most troubling scenes, in Avengers Infinity War was Groot playing a video game while ignoring everyone else trying to talk and interact with him. As parents, the most powerful tool we have is example.  If we don’t use electronics excessively, then our kids will see that and more often than not follow our example, even if they don’t want to admit it.

That brings up the question about how much electronic communication from work should be allowed to interrupt family vacation time.  I have seen articles where people say to send all emails to the trash and have an autoreply that says you are on vacation and will not look at the email, and if they wish to contact you to do so again after a specific date.  I’ve also seen a slightly less drastic article that says don’t look at email at all while you are gone.  While both solutions have their appeal, it seems to me that, like almost anything in life, we can find a better solution that depends on moderation more than absolutes.

For example, don’t look at email or anything work related while you are walking around the amusement part of playing at the beach with your family.  But you can look at email if you are an early riser and everyone else is asleep or during nap time if your kids are younger. When someone contacts you in a panic, pass them off nicely to a colleague who is handling the emergency situations while you are out; or see if the issue can really wait until you get back, which is almost always the case. I don’t believe cutting off all contact is the answer, but a child or spouse witnessing you tell someone that you will take care of them later because right now you are focusing on family may do more to help your kids realize how important they are than any cold turkey approach to work could do.

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