Mom and Dad’s dream of the family vacation home providing a respite of family unity can become a minefield of family discord. Intended to be where family values are learned, practiced, and passed down to the next generation, the vacation home sometimes ends up creating more distance among family members and generational conflict.

With years of practice, the family becomes adept at dancing around the minefields of conversations no one dares to have. Just under the sublime moments of joy, laughter, and love are thoughts such as:

Why does Jimmy’s family always get the better room?

How come I’m the only one doing the chores to open and close the property?

How will we make decisions once Mom and Dad are no longer present?

And the biggest one: “How does ownership work again?”

Over time, these unspoken conversations gain friction and ultimately spark a family feud. The failure to address these issues puts the relationships and the very purpose of the vacation home at great risk.

Five Tips for Meaningful Conversations

  1. Align on the purpose of the conversation and why it matters. For example, if the conversation is about who gets what room, a possible purpose might sound like, “I’d like to have a conversation to clear the air of our relationships when it comes to using the vacation home.”
  1. Co-design an outcome. Define the goal of the conversation. For example, “I’d like to align on an agreed-on method for booking the vacation homes.”
  1. Share your perspectives. Without interrupting each other, ask, “What else?” before switching to the other family member.
  1. Speculate on proposals. For example, rotate first dibs on a shared calendar based on birth order, consider a lottery or fantasy football grid to choose weeks, and identify rules to be followed.
  1. Agree on action steps and who will take responsibility for them, such as who and how the calendar will be managed.

Map to Family Unity

While the vacation home provides a structure for family unity, it’s the family itself that accomplished the goal of family unity. Building skills to manage and repair trust, communicate more effectively, and co-design a future together that takes care of the collective concerns provides the map to family unity.

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