max_chester_oceancityMost family vacations are about spending time together and focusing on fun without the distraction of the work-related problems you temporarily leave behind. The goal is to have some Disney moments (even if you aren’t at Disney) and to enjoy your time together while hopefully getting some time to relax. If you have young children, the reality is that your kids will likely be the ones having most of the fun, and there won’t actually be much time for the adults to relax. That’s why you need to make sure to build in opportunities for respite so that you can have a good time and fully participate in your vacation.

My family recently took our first-ever vacation. My 7-year-old son Max has autism, and our daughter Cammie is a typical energetic 5-year-old. Add in an autism service dog, and there are a lot of needs to juggle in an unfamiliar location. We rented a pet-friendly condo in Ocean City, New Jersey for a week because we wanted a place where we could have some space and take breaks during the day. But let’s be real, when you’re on vacation, the last thing kids care about is being quiet so mommy can relax and read her book in peace.

Of course, my husband and I did our best to give each other breaks. It became clear that while there were times when all of us could do things together, it was often more fun for us and the kids to divide and conquer with a one kid/one parent strategy. With one child who is a night owl and the other being an early riser, we figured out a schedule that would allow us both the chance to get sleep, even if it meant we didn’t get the coveted kid-free time in the evenings we had hoped for.

Since I’m used to getting up early, I took the morning shift with Max and his service dog Chester. Each day we would get up, have breakfast and then head out for a walk. I found that this time was my most relaxing time of the day. The boardwalk and beach were fairly quiet, it wasn’t too hot, and we were able to explore at our own pace. The three of us discovered the best bagels in Ocean City can be found at Wards Pastry Bakery and the tastiest coffee is just down the block at the Ocean City Coffee Company. While my first choice typically would have been to experience the early morning hours of Ocean City on my own, redefining “respite” forced me to figure out a way to relax with my “fellas”. I truly enjoyed our morning routine and missed it when we got home. It’s good to know that just because you are on a family vacation, that doesn’t mean relaxation is out of the question.