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Summer Vacations After Divorce

Many children spend large chunks of time with their non-custodial parent over the summer. Whether your child is going across town to spend a few weeks with your ex, will travel to their home state for visitation, or is packing up to go away on a big trip with your ex, preparing for and adjusting to the absence can be very difficult.

Set Your Mind at Ease

When your child is preparing to go away, do some advance planning that will help you feel comfortable with the vacation or the trip. Find out where your child is going and get the contact information. Ask questions so you know what the plan is. If your child will be traveling, get the details of the itinerary. Make sure your ex understands your child’s capabilities when it comes to swimming, hiking, or other activities. If your child is going to another state to stay with at your ex’s home for a few weeks, find out who will provide child care while your ex is at work.

Stay in Touch

If your child is in elementary school, this might be a good time to get him a cell phone. That way, you can reach him directly without having to go through your ex and you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing you can call at any time. Stay in touch, but don’t call several times a day. You have to let go a little and let your child and ex have time together without you involved. A few texts or a call once a day is reasonable.

Pack Well

Help your child pack for the time away. Make sure all essentials are included, including prescription medications, glasses, retainers, rubber bands for braces, summer reading requirements, sunscreen, special stuffed animals, favorite toys, clothing appropriate for the weather, and personal care items. If your child will be traveling, don’t assume your ex will think to pack children’s pain reliever, dental floss, water shoes, or other important items. Talk with your ex about making sure your child follows her routine and takes her meds, brushes her teeth, wears sunscreen, and so on.

Prepare Your Child

Depending on the age of your child and whether he has been away from you before, this could be a difficult separation. Remind him he is going to be with the other parent who loves him and is so excited to be able to spend time with him. Tell him you’ll miss him and he’ll miss you, but you’ll be together again very soon. Do not dwell on how hard the separation will be for you. That is not your child’s burden to carry. Instead, give him permission to enjoy himself and have fun. Be happy he is about to have this experience.

Prepare Yourself

If you have not been away from your child for extended periods of time, the time apart in the summer can be difficult for you to adjust to. Think ahead about how you will use your time. This is a great chance to tackle some big projects around the house or at work. It’s also a great time to do something for yourself, like a wine tasting class, audition for a play, or do some traveling of your own. You will miss your child, but you may find you enjoy the time to yourself as well.

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The Girlfriend

The girlfriend.  She strikes terror in the heart of divorced mothers everywhere.  When your ex gets a girlfriend it’s challenging enough to deal with your own emotions, but when the girlfriend is suddenly a big part of your child’s life, it’s hard to know how to react.

If Your Kids Are Ga-Ga About the Girlfriend

If your child likes the girlfriend, you know that at least things aren’t completely miserable during visitation.  But just because your child is happy doesn’t mean you’re happy.  What do you do if the girlfriend gets too involved with your kids, allows things you wouldn’t, and seems to be creating an emotional attachment with your child?   The first thing to do is just give the entire situation some time.  Girlfriends come and go and this might be over before you can say ‘tramp.’

On the other hand, if the girlfriend has some staying power, there are some things you can do.  First off, don’t talk negatively about her in front of your child.  You don’t want to position yourself as against the girlfriend.  If you have real, solid concerns, the person to talk to is your ex.  If your child is not being properly cared for, it’s on his head.  It can be hard to approach your ex about this without getting confrontational, so you have to stick strictly to the facts and not get caught up in your feelings.

It’s also a good idea to make some inroads with the girlfriend herself.  Try to be friendly and get to know her.  It is possible to develop a relationship with her, and often, if she’s a decent person, she can influence the way your ex behaves, so getting to know her is a good way to change his behavior.

Remember that no one can take your place with your child, ever.  It’s ok for your kids to enjoy someone else’s company.  It’s good for kids to have healthy relationships with other adults.  And if your ex ends up marrying her, it will be a good thing that she and your kids developing a friendly relationship.  However, don’t allow the girlfriend to be in charge of visitation.  That is something that you and your ex must negotiate together.  It’s not her right or place to make arrangements with you.

Another common complaint is that the ex and the girlfriend are too “friendly” in front of the kids.  If you get eyewitness reports of adult behavior, there is a problem.  Some hugging and kissing is fine, but if they’re making out in front of your kids, you need to say something.  Politely but firmly remind your ex of what behavior is appropriate in front of the kids and what is not.

If Your Kids Hate the Girlfriend

What if your kids don’t like the girlfriend?  Some children feel as if their dad spends too much time focusing on the girlfriend and ignores them.  Some feel the girlfriend is mean or doesn’t like them.  If the girlfriend has her own kids, it can complicate things when your children are expected to take part in this new mixed family.  If you feel that your kids’ complaints are valid, it is ok to have a talk with your ex and explain that while you don’t have a problem with the girlfriend, the kids are having a hard time adjusting.  Don’t point fingers or suggest the girlfriend is a hussy (even if you think she is).  Instead make this about how the kids are feeling and say that you want to think of ways together to help them be more comfortable.  Keep your conversation focused on what is best for the kids, and not about your own personal opinions.

No matter what the situation, you have no authority to tell your ex that the girlfriend can’t be there during visitation.  If there is a serious problem with the kind of supervision that is happening, you have to talk to your lawyer and possibly return to court, but you won’t get any support from the court unless you have some solid evidence that your kids are in danger (physically or emotionally) when with the ex and his girlfriend.

 

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Help Your Child Cope with Parental Relocation

If you or your ex are relocating, you know it is going to be hard for your child to stay close to the non-residential parent.  However, if you are the residential parent, there are many things you can do to encourage them to interact and many ways to provide support during this difficult adjustment.

Plan It Out

The most important thing you need to do when your child is no longer going to be living near the other parent is to sit down and have a detailed talk together as parents about how you’re going to make this work.  If you’re the one moving, you may have had to get court permission and a court-approved plan for visitation, but even so, there are details that need to be worked out.  It’s essential that, as the residential parent, you make it clear to the other parent that you want his or her relationship with the child to thrive, despite the distance.  You need to emphasize that you want to support their relationship.

Spell It Out

Once you and the other parent have a plan, share it with your child.  Your goal is to reassure your child that the long-distance parent is still going to have an parenting important role.  For younger children, it can help to use to a calendar to show when they will go visit the other parent.  Color that area of the calendar in or use stickers to make it stand out.  Share all the details of the different ways child and parent will be able to stay in touch in between visits.

Plan Expenses

Discuss travel expenses.  If your child will be traveling to visit the other parent, who is going to do the driving, or who is going to pay the airfare?  Arguments over these costs are the most common stumbling blocks to long-distance visitation and if you can negotiate them now, you’ll save yourselves, and your child, a lot of heartache later.  Many parents share these costs, but if there is a large financial disparity between your incomes it may make sense for the wealthier parent to pick up the cost.

Make a Tech Plan

 

Schedule regular times for calls, Skype, or FaceTime between parent and child. If your child is old enough, getting him his own phone can make it easier to stay in touch. Create an open door policy so that the other parent can call or text the child at any time.

Share

Non-residential parents often feel out of the loop even when they’re living in the same town with their children, and it can be worse if they are across the country from their child.  As the residential parent, make a point to share things that are happening in your child’s life with the other parent.  Instead of throwing out homework papers that come home, stuff them all in an envelope and mail them every week or snap photos and text them.  Forward along the school or classroom newsletter.  Email photos you take of your child and record dance recitals, plays, or important games.

Reach Out

Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone, or encourage your child to do so, to ask the other parent for suggestions for school projects, sympathy over a sprained ankle, or help with a friendship problem.  Remember that a lot of the time our work as parents happens when our children reach out to us with a problem.  The other parent won’t have the opportunity in those moments unless you encourage your child to reach out.

 

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Making Kids Go on Visitation

It happens in every family at one time or another.  You have a parenting plan in place that seems to be working pretty well with everyone’s schedules.  And then one day, your child simply refuses to follow it.  Most often this is a refusal to go on visitation with the nonresidential parent.  It can be baffling and upsetting for both parents when this happens.  The nonresidential parent feels hurt and betrayed and a bit angry too.  He or she begins to wonder if the other parent somehow put the child up to this.  The residential parent feels frustrated and worried.  He or she wonders if there’s something going on at the other house he or she is unaware of.  And both parents are hit with a sudden disruption of the schedule they had adjusted to.

So what do you do when your child won’t go?  The first thing to remember is that while it’s always important to listen to your child’s feelings and opinions, spending time with the nonresidential parent is not optional.  Your child doesn’t get to pick and choose when she is going to go or what circumstances will gain his approval.  There are days when kids don’t want to go to school, but you don’t let your child stay home on those days.  Similarly, you can’t let your child decide to just skip visitation.

Visitation is more than just a schedule.  It is a connection to both parents.  And continuing to have a connection with both parents is absolutely essential for your child.  Children are not in charge of visitation.  Parents are.  Children’s opinions are important, but not decisive.  Children are not old enough or mature enough to hold the authority to decide when and if visitation happens.  If you give your child that authority you will confuse and overwhelm him.  Your child wants and needs to know that both parents are an unconditional part of his or her life.

Now that being said, there can be real problems with visitation that lead to a child’s refusal to go.  Talk to your child and find out why he doesn’t want to go.  Often it’s just a general annoyance with the other parent or a vague sense of dissatisfaction.  This isn’t good news, but it isn’t bad news either.  You have to remember that it will pass.

If your child has solid complaints about visitation, suggest that she discuss them with the other parent.  If your child isn’t able to verbalize this, then it’s ok for you to convey the message, but you must remember that children’s perceptions of things may be skewed.  A complaint of “Dad is always working and never spends any time with me” might in reality turn out to be a case of where Dad had one project he had to finish up last Sunday night and so could not play video games.  If there is a real complaint about visitation, it’s important to remember that this problem exists between the child and the parent.  The other really should not get involved unless it is a dangerous situation.  Part of having a real parent-child relationship is working out problems together.

If your child refuses to go on a scheduled visitation and there is no real reason for the refusal, you and the other parent must present a united front.  Insist together that there is no other option.  If the residential parent gives in, he or she becomes an accomplice, making the other parent angry and proving to the child that he or she does not really respect the other parent’s role.  If the nonresidential parent gives in, this is a sign to the child that he or she doesn’t really care and is seen by the residential parent as yet another failure.  The best plan is to work together to get your child to go.  If your child refused to get out of bed to go to school, you would find a way to make him go.  You’ve got to do the same in this situation.

If your child is a teen, she may need more control over visitation than younger children are allowed, however this does not mean that she can write the other parent out of her life.  Teens need to feel some control over their lives, and need time for school, jobs, friends, and activities, but they also do desperately need real connections with both parents.

It is upsetting for everyone involved when a child refuses to go on visitation, but if both parents insist together that there is no choice, then no one will be the villain and your child will have to cope with the reality of the situation.

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Could Nesting Work for Your Family?

Instead of getting a divorce and having two separate homes the kids rotate through, nesting is a newer concept where the kids remain in the existing family home and the parents take turns staying there. Some parents each get their own new place and rarely some will share one other place that they are never actually in together. Often parents rotate on an every other week schedule, but any schedule that works for the parents is definitely possible.

The idea is that the kids remain safe and sound in the “nest” or family home. Their living arrangements don’t change and they aren’t shuttled around from place to place. It allows the kids to have a more stable environment and familiar surroundings as they adjust to the divorce. The children experience as little disruption as possible and can continue with the same school, same activities, same schedule, and essentially the same life as prior to the divorce. The benefits of that are huge.

Nesting can be quite expensive though. Maintaining the existing family home as well two additional homes is a huge financial burden most families cannot take on. Nesting can also be challenging for the parents. You’re sharing a home with your ex even though you’re never there together. You don’t actually see each other (except for planned meetings or occasionally passing on your way out) yet you’re sharing a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living area. All of the conflicts you had about not doing things the same way or disagreeing about how a household should be run will continue.

It can also be difficult to uproot yourself every other week and stay someplace else. Packing clothes, work things, toiletries, medications, and everything else each week can result in some giant mix-ups.

Another challenge is that after divorce, it’s common for the parents to gradually evolve and make some changes about who they are, what they think, and how they live their lives. This is often gradually reflected in parenting styles that can change. If this happens during nesting it can be confusing for kids who may find the parents suddenly are implementing different rules within the same home (Mom says no eating in the family room, but Dad says it’s ok, for example).

I worked with some families who tried nesting and most found that it worked as a short-term transitional method. It wasn’t something they wanted to do long-term, but they found that for a few months to a year after the divorce it was a great way to help their kids adjust and also give themselves time to figure out what to do with the family home and to find other places to live permanently.

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