My husband and I worked at a smallish dude ranch in Northern Colorado for many years. Several times during our tenure, a family reunion booked the whole ranch for the entire week. Maybe Grandma and Grandpa were treating the family to a vacation or the whole family pulled together and decide instead of a cruise, a dude ranch would provide a change of pace. The Bar Lazy J offered a lot of activities, fishing, hiking, mountain bikes, jeep rides, river rafting, nightly activities, kids program and of course the signature horseback riding.
No Amount of Options Could Make Everyone Happy
What Jerry and I noticed about the “Vacationing with Family” groups was there were always members who came out of obligation rather than desire. In a group of 30-60 people this may always be the case but it was most prevalent in the Vacationing with Family set. Most hid it well but occasionally the seams would show in side comments made to staff members.
Uncle Fred paid for it so I came.
This is my wife’s families’ idea.
My kids really wanted to come.
I am just along for the ride.
Well, we went on cruises for the last three years so this is a change.
As staff, we quickly learned that no amount of options or flexibility in scheduling was going to make any difference, these family members simply did not want to be on the ranch. The levels of discontent varied by family member. The most discontent only turned up for meals and spent the rest of the time on self guided tours of the local tourist areas and shopping. Many put on a good face during the first part of the week and then drifted off to their own escapes as the week marched on. At this time, the ranch was remote enough not to have good cell signal or Wi-Fi connections so working remotely was limited.
Family Tensions Don’t Disappear Because of A Change in Locations
Most of us dream of vacationing with family where laughter abounds, and everyone’s schedule, diet, choice in restaurants and activities line up perfectly. Cruises and dude ranches promise a preset program that has something for everyone. The meals are prepared, activities planned, housing furnished, beautiful location provided.
Yet, sigh, the family core dynamics don’t fall out of the plane at take off. They cling to us as little clues to our own needs for growth, health and personal development. To this beautiful fantasy location you still bring you and your junk.
Vacationing with Family:The Happy Set
In my eight years on ranch, I remember only 2 family groups who rented the whole ranch, and who appeared to have worked through there family kinks. I believe both of these families lived close to each other regularly and spent a lot of time as extended family.
The Mafia Family
First was, the large Italian family who humorously called themselves “The Mafia”. Loud laughter followed them around the ranch with lots of teasing and open conversations about marriage pluses and minus, whose kids were doing well and poorly, what they liked and did not like. There was no hidden agenda; everything was out on the table for discussion with the wine bottles.
The Jewish Family
This fun loving group did require a few special food adjustments but happily sang a thank you to the chef at every meal. And I do mean sang– boisterous, jolly, singing that delighted all the staff. They also blessed their food at every meal. In visiting with them during the week, Jerry and I found that although they were all Jewish it meant very different things to each member and the family was comfortable with that. In addition to the ranches activities, this family had some preplanned activities and traditions that they did regularly as a family.
Showing Up is Half the Battle
My limited experience on the dude ranch leads me to believe that vacationing with family that only see each other a couple times a year is difficult. But, and this is a big but, these families keep showing up. Hope is part of the equation. Hope that their will be a special moment of connection to take home that would not have happened had they not been present. One of the best moments as a staff member is to hear a guest say, “You know, I really did not want to come to a dude ranch but
I love seeing my son so confident on a horse.
I really got a chance to talk to my sister on that hike.
It is quiet; I got to listen to my folks.
It was easy to be with the family with all this taken care of.
We all live within our own muck and mire. Sometimes, just showing up in a different location does offer and opportunity to change a relationship. What would change if you did not show up?