Q: Do you have any suggestions for things families can do together while the kids are out of school on spring break? We don’t have a lot of money to spend, but we would like to take advantage of the time off to strengthen our relationships and have some good old-fashioned fun. Any ideas?

Jim: “Spring break” doesn’t have to automatically mean “skiing” or “trip to Florida.” Expensive options like these may not be feasible for struggling families, especially with young children. Fortunately, there are plenty of other things you can do with a week off from school.

In my mind, the main purpose of spring break is to provide a needed pause in the schedule for students (and teachers) before things gear up for the hectic last couple months of school. Looking at it that way, it’s a relief to realize that there’s no need to pack the week with too many activities; in fact, doing so might be counterproductive. It doesn’t have to be the blowout of a lifetime — just an opportunity to chill out and spend some quality time as a family.

A few ideas:

  • Plan a couple of stay-at-home movie nights, or hit an afternoon matinee. (See PluggedIn.com for film reviews.)
  • Check out inexpensive attractions like local museums and art galleries.
  • Weather permitting, try to get outdoors as much as possible — plan picnics, play Frisbee in the park, take a drive in the mountains, go hiking, etc.
  • Take time to laugh, talk and dream together.

With family, the best things tend to happen when you aren’t expecting them. So I’d suggest staying loose, staying open and leaving room to just sit and listen to your kids. Let them tell you what they’d like to do and how they want to spend their time away from school. You’ll be glad you did.

Q: Is it normal to wish I wasn’t married to my spouse? I guess we still love each other, but we’re worn down from hardships and disappointments that have overridden our hopes and dreams.

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: “Normal” is a relative concept. There’s no such thing as a perfect marriage. While some relationships are especially troubled or dysfunctional, a certain amount of dissatisfaction or disillusionment is “normal” for any marriage.

This is mainly a reflection of what I’d call the “expectation gap.” Most couples start out with their heads full of dreams of marital bliss. Hopes, expectations and plans — expressed or unexpressed — have built up in their minds during the courtship and dating process. But those ideals often hit several speed bumps not long after the honeymoon. One spouse loses a job. Another is diagnosed with a chronic illness. Habits that seemed cute at first become annoying. In-law conflicts arise. A baby is born and financial resources begin to run thin. Reality sets in and the dream may begin to fade.

Good marriages are forged in the crucible of day-to-day experience. If you and your spouse can examine your expectations honestly — whether they are false or true, positive or negative, healthy or harmful — and recognize them for what they are and where they came from, you’ll be in a better position to put them in perspective and deal with the challenges of life as you’re experiencing it at the present moment.

If you’re like most couples, you could probably use some extra help in this area. An objective third party can help provide insight into your situation that you might never recognize on your own. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that your marriage is a failure and that you’d be better off single, you should consider the option of seeking professional counseling. You can start with our licensed staff counselors by calling 855-771-HELP (4357).

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.