07/31/2012 03:03 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2012

When a Vacation is a Trip

Summer time and the livin' is easy... well, sort of.

The dog days are laced with so many expectations -- relaxed schedules, lazy days, warm evening bar-b-ques, no homework, lighter responsibilities, and vacations. Many parents have memories of fabulous family vacations from their youth. And for the kids, vacations are usually just that -- fabulous! But that's not always the case for mom and dad.

Do you know the difference between a vacation and a trip? A trip is what you do with children; a vacation is for parents alone. Here is the good news: there is room and need for both.

While family vacations (heretofore to be known as "family trips") are possibly the best memory makers there are, they can also be challenging for parents--the planning, the arranging, the organizing, the packing, the paraphernalia, the schlepping. But when you are actually on the road and utterly exhausted from "going on vacation," that's when the memories begin. Everyone remembers when the suitcase flew off the top of the car, the bear that broke into the food stash, the face mask that sank to the bottom of the ocean. And you remember reaching the top of the peak, swimming with dolphins, and roasting marshmallows on the campfire. These vacation memories provide fodder for family folklore forever. These are memories that stick.

Family trips are the mortar that binds families together, especially when it's just your own family... no friends, no cousins, no add-ons. It is amazing how the same kids, who are at one another's throats, manage to get along when there's no one else with whom to play. It's on family trips that Dad actually has the time to snorkel, to hike, to play a whole set of tennis with both kids, chatting all the while. Mom relaxes and struts her athletic prowess, never having to stop and put dinner on.

In building a sense of family, taking trips together, despite the giant effort it can take to pull them off, are well worth it.

But what about you? Here's where vacations come into the picture. A vacation is when parents escape for some extended time together, without the children. It's more than dinner. It's awakening in the morning by your inner alarm and not by the cacophony of kids arguing over which show to watch. It's eating breakfast whenever you want. It's reading the whole newspaper. It's talking about something other than the kids and their issues.

I know, I know. You think that's just impossible. But vacations actually happen in places other than Hawaii, and they don't have to be for ten days. Sometimes ten hours do the trick, and the hotel on the other side of town might not be half bad. Vacations are about parents getting time alone to connect and to remember why you are together in the first place.

Parents who are connected to one another are better parents. They are on the same page. They are mutually supportive. Their cupboards are full. But you have to make it happen. And that's why I say take a summer trip and then a summer vacation.