Keeping Summer Vacation Fun in a Divorced Family

photo courtesy of federico stevanin

Kids wait all year for summer vacation.  But when parents are divorced or separated, summer vacation becomes more complicated.  Kids look forward to long days with their friends doing nothing.  When they have a parenting schedule to live with, summer loses some of its fun.  Your child needs to spend time with both parents – that’s a given.  So how do you keep the parenting schedule from messing up your child’s summer dreams?

Plan around it. If you and your child dream of lazy days at the beach or crazy afternoons at an amusement park, plan your family’s schedule around the parenting schedule.  Try to work, clean the house, or do volunteer work while your child is with the other parent.  Save the big events for days when your child is with you.  If you have children and step children with conflicting schedules, talk with both sets of parents and look for a way to make adjustments so that you can all have family time together once in a while.

Welcome friends. One of the biggest concerns kids have about schedule is not being able to see their friends.  Make it clear friends are welcome at your home anytime.  If you’re the non-custodial parent, go the extra step and offer to drive the friends (who probably live near your child’s other home) to your home.

Make other plans. Whether you’re the custodial or non-custodial parent, it’s impossible to be with your child the entire time he or she is at your house.  Look for alternatives that will keep your child happy and occupied while you’re busy.  Look for a class or day camp that ties into his or her interests – zoo camp, art camp, soccer camp – the choices are huge.  Planning this activity will give your child something to do and will ease any guilt you might feel (you shouldn’t!) about not being completely available.

Think of yourself. Be sure to plan some adult fun for the days your child is away.  You’re supposed to enjoy the summer too and those days on your own are the perfect times to explore new places, meet people, and expand your own horizons.

Remember what it’s like to be a kid. There were plenty of times when your idea of a good time was sleeping till noon, spending 4 hours in front of the tv, or plugging yourself into a video game.  The same probably holds true for your child.  Let him or her have time to just veg.  You don’t need to plan excursions and events every time your child is at your home.  Let there be time for just being a kid.

Relax. Stop pressuring yourself to create the perfect summer for your child.  If you look back you probably will find that your favorite summer memories are of small, everyday things.  You’re not a cruise director; you’re a parent.  There’s a lot to be said for quiet dinners on the porch, picnics in the backyard, ice cream cones on a hot night, and fun in the sprinkler together.

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Biting Your Tongue

Photo credit: photostock

Once you’re divorced or separated, it seems as if you should be free of your ex and able to live your life without his or her influence. However, if you are parents together, this is not a realistic expectation. You will be parents together for the rest of your lives and although you don’t have to live together or see each other often, you do have to find a way to function together as parents.

Spirit of Acceptance

Your child has two parents and although you are not in love with each other anymore, and in fact, may not even like each other, it’s best for your child if you work together as parents. No matter what kind of parenting arrangement you may have – shared custody, sole custody, or residential custody with visitation – you must still find a way to work together as a team.

As you’ve already learned, you cannot change who the other parent is, nor how he or she does things. This was true in your marriage and it remains true as you parent together. Part of parenting together is accepting who the other person is and learning to live with it. It may not be easy to put up with the things about the other parent that drive you crazy – lateness, neatness, snide comments, lack of attention to details, pickiness – whatever it is. But learning to do this is part of your job as a divorced parent.

Watch Your Words

As you and the other parent work through your journey as parenting partners, it’s likely that you will have clashes. Even if you had the most amicable divorce in the world, as you parent it is almost certain that resentments, jealousy, outrage, and other negative feelings will plague you at some point. It’s difficult to parent together when you rarely are together. You’re each growing into different people than you were when you were married.  As the years pass you may become more and more unfamiliar to each other.

One of the most important skills you will need to work effectively with the other parent is communication. Because you are not parenting in the same home, it is essential that you learn to communicate with each other about your child. Learning how and when to talk to each other is an important skill, but perhaps the most important skill is learning how to say nothing at all.

Silence is Golden

If you constantly criticize or complain to the other parent, your relationship will evolve into a negative one. Always pointing out what he or she is doing wrong just feeds the fire of resentment and anger. It is not your job to point out everything the other parent is doing wrong. That’s not your responsibility anymore. One of the best things you can do to create a supportive co-parenting environment is to try not to say anything negative. Instead focus on sharing information about your child, making plans that will benefit your child, and saying something nice once in a while.

If you are in a very difficult parenting relationship where every communication you have with each other seems to end in an argument, you need to cut back on your face to face communication. Try email, instant messenger, texting, or even sending notes back and forth.

Parent Together, But Apart

You and the other parent are part of a parenting team, but you’re each on the field at different times. Trying to set up some common boundaries and rules is helpful to everyone, but you can’t and shouldn’t try to control what is happening when the other parent is in charge. You have to let go and let the other parent do things his or her way – without commenting on it, criticizing or offering a better way to do it.

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Friends and Parenting Time

Photo credit: VladoFriendships are an important part of life for kids, but making time for friends can become complicated when your child has divorced parents.  Striking a balance between family and friends is difficult but possible.

Welcome Friends

Let your child know that you respect his or her friendships.  Welcome friends into your home, within reason.  Children need to spend time with friends out of school and if you stand in the way, you’ll face a lot of resentment which will likely get worse as your child gets older.  Talk about friends with your child and make it clear that seeing them is something you want your child to do.  View friends as a wonderful part of your child’s life, and not as something that takes time away from you.

Set Priorities

If you and your ex alternate weekends, it can be hard to give up a whole afternoon to a play date – whether at your home or at the friend’s home.  But it is possible to have quality time with your child while allowing him play dates.  Make it a rule that play dates are fine, say, on Saturdays from noon to four, or any other day and time that is convenient for you.  Also make it clear that there must be time during the weekend for family and that while a sleepover once in a while is fine, every weekend is a bit much.

Discuss Plans with Your Ex

You and your ex should talk about how important it is to your child to see friends.  Your child may want to invite friends over for play dates or sleepovers at the non-custodial parent’s house.  Kids like to have their friends see both of their homes and parents.  Again, the non-custodial parent should set boundaries and schedule things so that there is adequate family time, but also room for friends.

Prepare for Occasions

Expect that your child will be invited to birthday parties and other events, and that these may not fit easily into your parenting plan.  You’ll need to weigh each invitation and talk to your child about them.  Most of the time, kids will want to go, but sometimes they don’t, so it’s always best to ask.  Try to make it possible for your child to attend parties he is interested in.  Your child is sure to miserable if she is the only one in the class who couldn’t go to the pool party.  You and your ex may want to have an arrangement that whichever parent is scheduled for the time of a party is the one to decide if the child is going and to provide transportation.

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Kids Who Are Unhappy About Visitation

It’s something I heard time and time again from custodial parents who were back in family court for modification of their custody orders. “My son hates going on visitation. He gets upset days in advance. Sometimes I have to force him to go. I think we need to stop visitation.” This is a very common scenario and if your child has never once complained about going on scheduled visitation, then you are in a rare minority.

 

What Kids Really Hate

Most kids don’t hate the other parent. They hate the upheaval in their lives and they express it by complaining about going on visitation. At times they make it sound like the other parent is what they don’t like. “Dad ignores me. His house is boring.” “Mom makes me go to bed early. I hate it there.” Again, what the child is reacting to is the situation. Kids who live in one home with both parents have gripes about their parents, but it doesn’t mean those parents are bad parents who don’t deserve to spend time with the kids!

 

Don’t Insert Yourself into the Situation

In most divorces, there are some bad feelings, even years later. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that it might make you feel just the tiniest bit happy if your child is mad at, annoyed at, bored with, or frustrated with the other parent. It’s just what your ex might deserve in your mind if you let yourself admit it. That doesn’t mean you can encourage, support, or even allow your child’s reaction to go on. Your child needs two parents. Neither of you are perfect and your child gets fed up with each of you, but you’re both still going to be in his life. If you haven’t accepted that, it’s time to do so.

 

Don’t Be the Bad Guy

One thing that is particularly hard when you are the custodial parent is having to shoehorn your kid out the door to go on visitation when honestly you would be perfectly happy if your child didn’t have to go (you wouldn’t have to have those arguments about vacation schedules or put up with your ex being late or trying to change things at the last minute).  It’s not fun to be the one forcing your kid to go when he tells you he doesn’t want to. The solution to this is actually quite simple. Tell your child it’s not up to you. The judge has decided this is the schedule and all of you have to follow it. There are no other options. You no longer have to be the bad guy and your child feels like there is a higher power that controls the situation.

 

How to Improve the Mood

Even if you’re able to reconcile yourself to visitation and remove yourself from the enforcer role, it still is no fun to listen to whining or complaining. Try these tips for making the transition easier:

–          When your child comes home, ask him to tell you one fun thing he did.

–          Smile when you hand off your child. Your mood is infectious. If you act like this is a great and happy occasion, it will rub off.

–          Institute a no whining rule. Tell your child there will be no complaining about going on visitation.

–          Make it clear that your child cannot cancel or postpone the planned parenting time. Often whining is an attempt to see if you’ll let the child off the hook. If changing the plans is not an option, there will be fewer complaints.

–          If your child has complaints about what happens at the other parents’ house, tell her that that is something to discuss with the other parent, not with you.

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How to Create a Parenting Plan

Photo Credit: nuttakit

Once you have a basic custody agreement decided (or ordered by a court), you still have a lot of work to do in order to create a workable parenting schedule. If you have a court order that specifies alternate weekend and one night per week visitation with the non-custodial parent, you might think there’s nothing for you to do. Setting up a parenting schedule is actually rather complicated and requires you and your ex to sit down together (if possible) and hammer out the details. If you don’t have a court order and want to work this out on your own, then you also need to find time to sit down and work through it.

Map It Out

You each need to bring your own calendar to the meeting, as well as have a calendar showing all of your child’s sports events, school events, and extracurricular activities. You should place a large blank month by month calendar on the table in between you. Using pencil, start by plotting in all the visitation for the next month. Then compare these dates to your own calendars and your child’s calendar. Look for conflicts. For example, if you need to go out of town on business on a weekend you would normally have, it would make sense to swap weekends so your ex has your child at that time. If pick and drop off from visitation falls in the middle of a soccer game, dance practice or birthday party your child goes to, you need to adjust the times.

Moving Forward

Once you’ve worked through one month, try plotting out the next two. Work through that, then set up a tentative schedule for the rest of the year. Keep in mind this has to be tentative and subject to change. It’s really hard to know what is going to be happening in December when you are scheduling in March. Plan to be flexible and make adjustments as you go.

Holiday Schedule

Next work on the holiday schedule. If you have a court order, it might spell out who has which holiday, but you’ll still need to make some adjustments. For example, if your ex has Thanksgiving this year but the Saturday and Sunday after it would normally be his weekend, it might make sense to switch out that weekend, so you will have some time with your child on that holiday weekend. If your ex has Christmas Eve, but that falls on a weekend that would be yours, you’ll need to remember that holidays trump regularly scheduled weekends.

Make Changes Together.

Try to be flexible with each other. Remember that you can make any changes to the visitation plan that you both agree on – and in fact courts want you to do this rather than filling up the docket with trivial things like this. If you can work it out on your own, you absolutely should do so. If you’re worried about your ex pulling a fast one, you can enter a stipulation into court to get the change made official.

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