Short Circuiting Power Struggles

A Basic Recipe for Family Democracy

Being on a family vacation, I have recently had a chance to brush up on my negotiation skills and thought I might share this great recipe for enjoying a relaxed time with your family, particularly when your regular schedule is disrupted ...

There is nearly always limited time and resources in our lives and so it's only natural that family members will struggle to assert themselves as high in the 'pecking order' as they can to be sure to get their share of whatever is on offer (while there is still time). 

Unfortunately if family members are fairly evenly matched (in the pecking order) this power struggle may become continuous and conflict can become the 'norm'. This will often happen between children close in age and this kind of prolonged conflict can become very hard to live with. 

Families that are normally stable can likewise become unbalanced in this same way when thrown into a new environment where there is limited time and money and some members begin to fear missing out. 

Yes I am talking about the dreaded family vacation!

So here is my recipe to short circuit these struggles (which can easily make vacations more stressful than staying home!). This advice may also work to short circuit power struggles if your family's standard routine is less than peaceful. 


- A clipboard and a few sheets of standard sized paper and a pen.

- Everyone who will be participating in activities.

- Adequate time.

- Patience and goodwill. 

- A good sense of justice and humor.

1. Establish an itinerary in the clipboard that everyone can look at and is carried with 'family general property' like the food carrier or similar (this is important because it shows that no one owns the itinerary but that it is there for everyone). 

2. Put the youngest member of the family in charge of remembering that the itinerary needs to be looked at when making decisions. This child can be called the itinerary master or similar. Giving them a watch will also help them know what time things are planned to happen without asking.

3. Before you leave make sure that all travel departure times including leaving home and all connecting travel points are written in the itinerary - but only for the next day. 

4. When you arrive and have had a chance to see all that is on offer (try and make sure that children are selecting from activities within your budget by only showing them advertising about the things you can afford to do) all sit down and ask each family member what they would like to do in your time at that particular destination. Do not schedule anything in yet - just listen and ask questions and write all of the points mentioned down on the left hand page of the note book you are using with the itinerary on the right hand page. Ask other family members "Who would like to do that too?"

5. Do not tell anyone that they cannot do what they are wanting to (but don't promise either!) if this is necessary wait until later, for now everyone is just hearing each other's wish list. 

6. Ask older children if they want the things that the younger ones do? The younger kids hearing them say, "No", will help them see that it is OK to miss out on some activities and that everyone doesn't have to do everything (which will help your budget!) 

7. Make sure no one in the family misses out on these meetings. Family members sitting on the sidelines will be drawn in as they hear various activities discussed. Everyone has to have at least one thing written down before the meeting can be declared over.

8. Start figuring out what things need to happen first (for practical reasons) and which activities can wait until later, until you have planned only 1 day ahead.

Just having talked about what each person wants to do will often make everyone feel more relaxed that their wishes have been heard and stop nagging and fighting. To be fair, parents should make a sincere effort to make sure each person gets to do at least one thing that was important to them at each destination. 

The journey my family is on at present began with an 8 hour plane departure delay after us all being bused to a different airport. The day was still remarkably smooth considering. Even though the itinerary had become nothing more than a failed attempt at prophecy, in the end it was what saved us from what could have become a family travel nightmare ... because of the itinerary (and the meeting we had had about it the day before) everyone in our family knew that the events that were going on had not been planned and that the disruption was no one's fault. The fact we had a plan also made the children feel reassured that eventually things would get back to normal and that playing cards in the airport was not an unusual thing for us to want to do. 

Once arriving at an extended family get together, a family itinerary can also short circuit power struggles that can erupt over who is in charge of planning with extended family members. No meeting has to be called - you can simply begin the itinerary meeting when everyone is around.

The itinerary meeting can be held at any time of the day that is suitable and is a tool not a rule book. Once everyone has their wishes written down 'to be scheduled at a suitable time' you may be amazed at how quickly everyone relaxes and gets into the current planned activities and starts enjoying their vacation. Remembering other family member's wishes is also a great way to build trust.

More on our travels soon ...

Kim Cooper


  1. this is great advice!

    i find the more energy i put into myself the angrier my n partner gets. also, i feel so jealous and clingy when he pulls away from me because of previous infidelities. i have been working on my self-esteem and sense of power, but i still feel weird when he goes off for a while. i am having a hard time reconciling my slight pulling away to save my sanity with the clinginess and anxiety i experience when my guy goes out until 4am or seems to want to keep me out of his space. anyone else feel something similar?

  2. Hmmm,

    Yes they will try and pull you down for sure
    and it is important you know that you will need
    to be stronger than them. That might sound tough
    but think about it - you are fighting for your
    authentic self's boundaries and they are fighting
    for their false prides right to act up.

    Instead of getting clingy why not find out what he's doing and set some real boundaries there?

    The chapter on Limiting abuse in the Love Safety Net Workbook will really help you with that.

    Kim Cooper


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