Monday 25 July 2022

Holidays with Pathological Demand Avoidance

Holidays can be a tricky topic for families living with Pathological Demand Avoidance. Society tends to foster a belief that holidays are the goal, the one event of the year to aim for that makes all the other months feel more manageable, the best way to spend your hard earned savings, the icing on the cake. Some people might feel that holidays with children are what life is all about; others might suggest that holidaying as a young, single twenty-something produces the best experiences. For many families in the UK, especially those who prefer warmer weather, holidays abroad are the ultimate dream, but they're not always achievable. Sometimes families are left disappointed because the dream doesn't work out as well as they'd hoped.

I was having a little chat with Sasha about holidays last week and I reminded her of one of our early holidays as a family, shortly after her first birthday. We drove all the way to St.Ives (a mere 5 hour drive from where we live if you don't hit any holiday traffic... we did... what were we thinking?!) and had a week in a rental property close to the gorgeous beaches. The most memorable moment of the holiday was the evening after Sasha had spent the whole day eating sand on the beach... I won't go into graphic details but I can tell you it wasn't pleasant!

Head and shoulders of one year old girl sitting in tent on the beach, with sand all over her face and fingers in her mouth

"Well why didn't you stop me eating the sand then?!" asked Sasha. Of course I tried to, but Sasha was a very determined baby. Sasha's extreme reactions and emotions in comparison to her sister were always notable, and they were partly what led us to stumble across descriptions of Pathological Demand Avoidance. Sasha ate a lot of sand on that beach; I don't know if she found it tasty or just liked the texture! We did manage to stop her eating the sand after a prolonged period of time of trying to distract her but I think the solution we eventually reached was to give her a dummy. 

Brown haired mum on sand as white sea rolls in behind, holding hands of one happy one year old girl and three year old daughter stands next to her showing off big smile and sandy hands

Other than that I remember that holiday as most parents of young children might - there wasn't much time for relaxing. Our 1 year old and 3 year old were constantly on the go and we probably all came home more tired than when we went away. Such fun! That was to be the case for the next few years too, and eventually I wrote a post on my blog with some tips in to help families who were thinking of going on holiday with their PDA children. It's called Holiday travel with Pathological Demand Avoidance and I should probably update it with some more tips on what I've learnt since. One key point to add would be sunflower lanyards - for more information on these visit but it's worth noting you can buy a PDA version from the PDA Society here. They weren't so readily available when our girls were younger but have definitely helped us in the later years, especially when it came to airport travel. 

This summer we are not having a family holiday. I know we're not alone, I know there are countless other families out there who are unable to get away for a variety of reasons. But I also know that for those families stuck at home it can seem as if pretty much everybody else is managing a family getaway at this time of year, whether that's in the UK or abroad. Lovely pics of sand and sea and happy smiling faces can stir up all sorts of emotions, and my advice to any parents/carers struggling with that is to switch off your social media accounts for a while.

It doesn't mean you can't be happy for your friends and family who do get away, but you don't necessarily need the reminder that it's not easy for you and your family. It's worth bearing in mind that it might not have been easy for those others to get away either, and that the lovely pics posted are just a snapshot of a moment in time. We don't always get the full story, or hear what others have struggled with.

The last time we flew abroad was 2017, when we stayed with Eurocamp in the South of France. It was a lovely holiday but with some ups and downs... In 2018 when Sasha told us no more flying (because her anxiety around flying had become too extreme), we drove to Paris via the Eurotunnel. That was the last time we had a 'typical' kind of family holiday, other than going for short breaks to Center Parcs or to visit my parents who luckily happen to live by the seaside. But I consider myself extremely lucky to have been able to travel at all with the girls when they were younger.

This year, Sasha's anxiety around any kind of travel has increased so although I will be making a short trip up to see my Dad with our eldest, Sasha has told me she feels unable to come. She got pretty agitated at my suggestion that she might like to see the sand and sea again, telling me that she's not a child any more - and she wasn't happy when I tried to gently point out that adults can like sand and sea too! But of course, not everyone has to love the seaside, just because I do. Sasha also thinks that she is too old for Center Parcs now, which is a real shame as the familiarity of going there suited her very well for several years. Sasha is very much happier at home these days, so we will roll with that for now.

'It is what it is' is a phrase that my Mum and I jokingly said to each other a lot over the last few years, but it's pretty true really. We try to understand what works for Sasha, and that things will keep changing. So 'no holiday' might not be a forever thing, but on the other hand it might. I will treasure our memories either way. 

I can already hear the words 'you need to push her outside of her comfort zone' ringing in my ears, or the suggestion that she is regressing, or that we are damaging her by not making her leave the house to have other opportunities. I think many families of children with PDA come across this kind of attitude from others and sometimes it can be difficult to smile sweetly and respond that we are doing what we feel is best for our child at this stage in her life. Not everyone understands the anxieties that lie behind PDA, but at this point I'm fairly confident that I know my own child better than anyone else does. However what is also true is that at this age in her life (some might say from a much earlier age!) she definitely knows her own mind and if holidays are not what she wants, there is no requirement to have one. The rest of us can figure out alternative ways to enjoy life.

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