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Autism Parenting: 4 Ways to Cope with ‘Vacation Blues’

postcards from vacation destinations around the worldA mom from a support group I lead recently posed a concern to the group. (While permission was granted to use her story, all names and situations have been changed to maintain confidentiality.) She said, “I hate it when jealousy takes me over. How do I not feel jealous of my sister and her family as they travel to Paris and snorkel in Key West this summer, while we are sitting in what feels like a dark cave. I was dealing with it OK until I talked to her on the phone the other night. She wasn’t doing anything wrong; she was just telling me about how much her family enjoyed their trips. Ugh!”

This is a valid concern for many parents raising children with special needs, particularly autism. Many of us cannot travel easily, or at all, with our children, so summers can be emotionally difficult. Many who can travel need to do so with backup plans and quick-exit strategies. I don’t think our family has had an actual “vacation” together since we evacuated to the Georgia Mountains for Hurricane Frances in 2004. That evacuation was mandatory.

Anyway, here are four suggestions for sparring with the big green monster of jealousy.

  1. Stay off of Facebook for a while. Social media are a convenient way to connect with loved ones we don’t see every day, but for the autism mom, it can be an incubator of envy. People post about their kids’ latest accomplishment, upload pictures of the cake they just baked (that your kid can’t eat because he has 23 different food allergies), and brag about their kid’s little league team that will be traveling to Japan. And the vacation pictures … the beach, the mountains, Hawaii, Paris … all the places you’ll never go as a family. It’s enough to make you really frustrated and increasingly depressed. Pay attention to your reactions. The minute you feel yourself feeling jealous or frustrated, close that laptop. Stay away from it for a while. And remember: if they traveled with kids, some of your friends may not have had as good a time as they seem to suggest.
  2. Identify the beliefs that are keeping you stuck. Here’s the bottom line. We’re going to come in contact with “normal” every day. So we need coping skills. When you catch yourself feeling envious, separate the feeling from the person you are envious of. That support group mom was not frustrated with her sister; she was frustrated with her own situation. Her sister was just the vehicle for the beliefs that came up in her head. Try to identify the belief you’re holding onto that might be perpetuating the jealous or negative feeling. Some I’ve heard in my office (and personally experienced) include: (1) it’s not fair; (2) this wasn’t what I signed up for; (3) we’re not a REAL family if we can’t _____; and (4) everyone else’s families are having more fun than we are. Once you can identify the belief that’s keeping you stuck, you can examine it (how much do I really believe that?) and then you can change it (it feels like we’re not a real family if we can’t spend a week in the Hamptons, but taking vacations is not what makes us a family). Enlisting the help of a therapist may be needed to do this effectively.
  3. Get together with other “special” moms. Humans were not designed to exist in isolation. This is especially true for parents of children with complex needs. We need one another to lean on, complain to, and laugh with. The women in my support group report that they most appreciate knowing, when they share with the group, that they won’t be judged or misunderstood. They have others who “get it.” Having others who can relate takes the edge off, allows you to laugh about it, and reminds you that you’re not alone.
  4. Take time for self-care. When feelings start to become overwhelming, it’s a signal that you’re in need of a break. Not a trip-to-the-supermarket-without-the-kids break, but a true, several-hours-long-with-no-responsibilities break. I realize that’s often easier said than done, but sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Acknowledge that you are just as important as the people you take care of. If you have limited access to childcare and the only time you have is at night after the kids are in bed, leave the laundry and other chores until tomorrow and do what you want to do rather than what you have to do. Think outside the box. If you can get away for a night or two, even if it’s to a local hotel with a good book or to a movie you’ve been meaning to watch, do it! Build it into your budget. Being intentional about our self-care time is one of the antidotes to being jealous of others. Become more aware of what helps you recharge. If taking this time results in overwhelming feelings of guilt and discomfort, it may be time to seek a therapist who can help guide you through.

Above all else, remember that these feelings you’re having are valid and real. They need to be recognized as such. It’s not easy to raise children with special needs, and every so often we need to allow ourselves the time and space to grieve the life we thought we would have. These feelings don’t make you a “bad person.” If you can give yourself permission to feel these feelings and let them run their course, they will dissipate much faster than if you fight them.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Janeen Herskovitz, MA, LMHC, Autism Spectrum Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Austin

    July 7th, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    I know that the urge to feel sorry for yourself and kind of down can be tempting and overwhelming, but take this time to reflect on the wonderful things that you DO have in life with this child and all of the special momores that you can all create together. It may not be in France or on some cool trip, but there are things that all of you can do together as a family that may, in the end, mean even more to you than any other vacation could. I know this is hard for you, it would be for anyone. But you have so much too, and now is the time to count those blessings and be happy for what you have been given to love.

  • janeen

    July 7th, 2014 at 12:59 PM

    Austin, Excellent advice, and well-said! Thank you for sharing that.

  • Lori W.

    July 7th, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    This makes me think of my recent revelation. I took that quiz “my love language”. My very high score is “words of affirmation”. I find that FB posts with my friends before autism life leaves me feeling shunned. I understand they don’t have a clue what my life looks or feels like and maybe they just don’t know how to respond. And going on trips to see family results in family giving unsolicited advice and no words of affirmation. And the public rarely ever gives words of affirmation! It’s nice to make blanket statements like..” look at all I have and the many blessings”. But I live an exhausting life and it is ok for me to feel life dumped on me. I’m not saying I live that way everyday. But I’m the only one that lives in circumstance, I know how dysfunctional it is and I am surviving. I’m the only one to give me the words of affirmation. I am doing a good job with what I have been dealt! I will find a way to have vacations but they will be uniquely mine.

  • Za'kariah

    July 7th, 2014 at 2:20 PM

    You know what? Good friends won’t rub this kind of stuff in your face

  • Kasey

    July 7th, 2014 at 3:19 PM

    Great advice as always!

  • janeen

    July 8th, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    Amen, Lori. And Za’kariah, those are wise words of affirmation!

  • JoHannah

    July 8th, 2014 at 10:32 AM

    How about instead of feeling bad about the places that your child can’t handle yet, you take off and do some of the things that you know that he can? There are great ways to vacation even when styaing aorund the house and day trips could be the perfect little solution when you have a child on the spectrum who can’t cope very well with the lack of routine that a traveling vacation might bring about.

  • Candace C.

    July 9th, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    I have a friend who has an autistic child who loves the beach but the summer time is not a great time for them to go because the crowds give him great anxiety and really throws him off kilter.

    So what they have decided to do as a family is that they always take the time to go to the beach a couple of times a year but they go in the off seasons. For them it is not about tanning or going swimming but having a way that all of them can relax and gave fun together in a way that makes them all happy.

  • theresa

    July 10th, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    If you don’t wnat to know what is going on and kind of remain blissfully ignorant for the summer, then I concur that facebook should not be your friend for a while.

    I don;t think that people are intentionally rubbing your face in all of the great things that they are getting to do but I know that it can feel that way sometimes when you don’t have the money or the luxury of going on some great vacation.

    So this could be a good time to wean yourself off of these sites for a while until everyone settles back down a little in the fall. It will give you time to enjoy other things and not have to think so much about what everyone else is doing for the summer vacation.

  • Warren

    July 12th, 2014 at 6:12 AM

    I am a firm believer that I will never let what others think about em and my family cloud and muddle what I think about us.

  • Daphne

    November 5th, 2022 at 12:24 PM

    Years ago when my daughter was a little girl, I had promised her we would go on a picnic. But that day, clouds rolled in, and our plans had to change. Instead of discarding the plan, I changed it, by packing the picnic basket, removing the coffee table in the living room, and laying out a quilt. There we had a memorable picnic. We pretended to see swans on the lake and imagined fluffy white clouds in the sky. This was a teaching moment, demonstrating to her that splendor can be found in the most ordinary places, no matter what the circumstances. We don’t require lavish trips to faraway places to celebrate adventure and togetherness. Adventure is always within our reach if we keep our imaginations alive. And togetherness is something we can embrace even if we are away from the ones we cherish– this is but one of the functions of loving and being loved in return.

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