I sat at my desk, toggling between multiple calendars, different websites, and the various emails that sat in my in-box, waiting for a response. Brochures were scattered across my desk, along with Post-it notes covered with dates, to-do lists, and plenty of question marks. My problem-solving skills were in full-throttle.
As I considered pouring myself another cup of coffee to see me through, I couldn't help but think "too bad this isn't billable." Unfortunately, I wasn't working for a client--I was just trying to nail down a summer plan for my three kids. If I could bill someone for it, I would definitely charge a premium rate.
If you have kids, you don't need me to tell you summer is complicated. In my family's case, there are three kids who each have different interests and fall into different age groups: elementary, middle and high school. Each girl has a list of things she has to do, and a list of things she'd like to do. It's no wonder I dread this annual chore almost as much as I dread tax time.
But for me, that's only half of the picture. Divorced parents are often faced with another major wrinkle--or in my case, two wrinkles: other families to coordinate with. Not only do we have our kids' individual needs and interests to consider, along with our family plans; we have to cross-check everything with two other families--my daughters' dad, step-mom and half-brother; and my step-daughter's mom, other step-mom and step-brother.
All together, there are 11 immediate family members to consider, not to mention their extended families. That means family weddings and trips, cottage rentals and reunions, holidays and extended family coming to visit--times three. This summer, my parents are also taking my youngest daughter on her "grandparents trip," which called for extra coordination with their schedule. Oh, and did I mention my kids' friends? They each had various camp dates they wanted to coordinate, which meant communicating with the parents of no fewer than 10 other girls. It's enough to make you long for those "easy days" when your kids were in diapers and took a nap every afternoon.
I wish I could step in now and enthrall you all with a really cool app, or a neat technique that makes coordinating all of this a breeze. Or maybe I could at least say that while it's a pain to coordinate schedules with your ex, it gets easier. Sorry. Instead, I'm just going to say this: The sucky part sucks, plain and simple, but there are ways to help the planning go more smoothly (and there might even a silver lining to this whole mess).
First, the tips:
1. Start communicating early, setting a tone for working together. It's tempting to strategize, jockey for position and see who can be first to call dibs on certain dates, but don't go there. As soon as your extended family starts talking about family reunion plans, or the moment the first camp brochure arrives in the mail, don't do another thing until you've initiated the conversation with your ex.
2. Ask everyone (kids and exes, yourself included) to prioritize. What falls under the "most important" category for each person this summer? What would be nice but isn't critical? This exercise not only helps everyone understand that they probably won't get everything they want, but it also signals that everyone's desires are important and have been heard.
3. Get your information together. Usually there's a "chief planner" in the mix (and it's probably you). Start compiling a list of facts. Are certain camps and trips locked into specific dates? Are others more flexible? Do any of them overlap or cause obvious logistical problems?
4. Don't let your kids to buy into something before your ex has bought in, and don't make your ex out to be the bad guy (or gal) if a hoped-for activity doesn't work out. Help your kids understand that you know what they would like to do, and you're all working together to make it work, but there are a lot of factors and people to consider. Be sympathetic, but not apologetic. You're being reasonable and you're teaching them to be reasonable.
5. Put yourself in the other family's shoes. You might not think your kids' visit to your ex-in-laws is a priority, but you do think the visit with your parents is. Why not just assume they fall under the same category and level of importance, and call it a day? Make the process less about claiming your ground and getting your way, and more about compromise and understanding.
6. Propose a plan--one that includes those big picture priorities as well as a window into your rationale. The plan should feel amendable at this point, and might even include some variations or options for the other families to weigh in on. If your ex senses that his or her desires and concerns have been taken into consideration, he/she will be more likely to trust the thought process and the plan itself.
And there you have it! Easy? Not at all. But it's also not worth getting into huge conflicts over, or making your kids feel guilty or stressed about. Summer should be fun and memorable, even post-divorce.
Oh, and I hinted at a silver lining. This is such a "mom" thing to say, but it's true: This blended-family-logistical-nightmare is a great learning opportunity. Communication, compromise and compassion are all important skills to practice and model for our kids. In the end, they not only benefit from the outcome, they learn through the process, right along with all their parents.