With her long stretch of school-free days, summer often brings vacations and visits with extended family. I know some of you are planning those trips right now, with emotions ranging from anticipation and excitement to trepidation and anxiety.
Even the most supportive, encouraging, and peaceful families have their conflict and complications. If you have family members with special needs, you may feel those complications even more acutely. Misunderstanding, different parenting styles, insecurity, pride, and even ignorance can cause hurt feelings.
Because I know how you feel and because I’ve learned lessons the hard way, I’m sharing a few tips today. (Be sure to read to the end! Hint, hint.)
Prepare the child.
What does your child need before changes in her routine? Pictures? Social stories? Schedules? When Henry was 3 years old, we printed pictures of the many family members he would see at Thanksgiving, most of whom he sees only once or twice a year. We looked through them and named them several times just to establish some level of familiarity. Before our Disney vacation earlier this year, we showed him videos of the parks and pictures of our resort.
Your child might need to be reminded that Aunt Sally speaks very loudly or that Uncle Sam smells funny. Talk through coping skills as well as what to say (and what not to say!) in those situations. If your child receives any kind of therapy, enlisting the help of the therapists is also a terrific idea.
You also need to bring along anything that helps your child cope with unfamiliar surroundings. Only you know what these are, but they might include toys, blankets, pillows, or books.
Prepare the extended family.
Each year around the holidays I see form letters floating around the internet. These letters are examples of how to email your family and prepare them ahead of time for whatever they may experience with your child who has special needs. Why not do the same before a summer vacation? Clear expectations from the outset are never a bad idea.
Your email need not be exhaustive, but you can briefly inform them of your family’s needs (physical, emotional, or otherwise) and ask them for their patience and grace. For example, your child may have an early bedtime due to sleeping difficulties or disorders. A gentle heads-up would be appreciated at best and a reminder at worst.
This is not the place to be petty or make trivial requests. This is a serious email, letter, or phone call to help everyone understand what your family needs to function.
Remember, we cannot control outcomes or other people’s perspectives, but we can take responsibility for our own actions and rest in the knowledge we have done our best to be accommodating and gracious.
Prepare your heart.
There is absolutely no way you can prepare for every possibility, every contingency, or every attitude. What you can do is prepare your own heart.
How? For me it first means a lot of prayer. I pray over my family and over myself. I pray for each of us to listen with open hearts, to serve one another with love, and to give each other grace.
Then, I get back to basics. Who am I? Who does God say I am? Scripture tells me in Christ I can do all things. I don’t have to be a slave to the desires of my flesh. So, if something unfortunate does happen, I don’t have to succumb to the need to be right, to be justified, or to be applauded. No, in Christ I can overcome these temptations.
I’ve found prayer to be the most important, most beneficial step of all, even more than the logistical, tangible preparations. Everything may be just perfect during your vacation or visit, but if not, you can still pause and say, “God’s grace is enough for me and for us in this moment.” And then? Just watch how true that is.
In A Family Shaped by Grace, Gary Morland advises “pondering the following words” before family gatherings: Ephesians 4:29, Philippians 2:14-15, James 3:16-18. I would wholeheartedly agree. Annnnnnnnnd….. I want to send a copy of A Family Shaped by Grace to one lucky reader as soon as it’s available!
——-> GIVEWAWAY TIME! <——-
To help you make the very most of your summer, I’m sending TWO FREE GIFTS to one lucky reader.
In The Ultimate Guide to Summer I walk you through 5 reflection activities that help you:
– Discover your family truths
– Identify your have-to schedule
– Determine your priorities
– Plan the fun
– Create and gather resources
Plus, you’ll also receive fresh family activity suggestions and even austism-friendly travel destinations!
I will also pre-order A Family Shaped by Grace for you! I had the pleasure of reading the entire book, and I promise there are takeaways for every possible family situation — even the ones that may seem perfect. I agree with these words from the publisher:
“In this life-giving book, Morland shares his journey of discovering the timeless tools of family peace that will help you . . .
- break unhealthy relationship patterns
- save your family relationships
- learn how to generously offer grace to the people who matter most in your life