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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10 replies
  1. sarah henry says:

    Good pointers here, though I take issue with the notion that dividing time between mom and dad puts a damper on summer fun. Lots of kids juggle all kinds of scheduling stuff over summer — including spending time with a variety of relatives. And I don’t think it’s always a good idea to leave all the “unfun” stuff (cooking, cleaning, shopping) when your kid is with his other parent. It’s good to normalize too.

  2. Melanie Haiken says:

    Love the last tip about not feeling you have to create the perfect summer for your child. We stress ourselves out so much trying to make every moment memorable, when sometimes just sitting on the deck with a glass of lemonade is what you remember most.

  3. Sheryl says:

    The trick is, I think, just thinking about it and planning ahead, and making the child feel as if they MATTER. As the child of divorce, in looking back I realize it was not so much what we did as much as it was feeling as if there was some thought that went into being together.

  4. Jennifer Margulis says:

    It’s so hard for us to coordinate summer activities with the kids whose parents are divorced. It makes me sad. Unlike one of your other commenters, I DO think bouncing back and forth between mom and dad puts a damper on summer (and winter for that matter). As a child of divorced parents who got along very well, I can attest to the fact that it’s painful. When parents pretend the divorce does not negatively affect their child’s life, they squelch that pain and it comes back later. I promise. Don’t get me wrong–childhood can be painful for lots of other reasons and yes, kids can be overscheduled or juggling a lot of things. I don’t think divorce is bad. Or that my parents made the wrong choice. But it’s just wishful thinking to pretend it’s hunky dory to get bounced around.

    • SolveDivorce says:

      I think it is hard because so many kids look forward to summer as unscheduled time. And when you’ve got a visitation schedule, it’s just not free and loose.

  5. Kristen says:

    Interesting discussion here. I think Sarah’s point is valid that doing some of the regular type activities–laundry, cleaning–does help normalize life a bit.

  6. Jane Boursaw says:

    This is great advice that applies even to families that aren’t dealing with divorce. We always think we have to give our kids the perfect [fill in the blank], but they’ll remember the little moments that matter.

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