For many divorced parents who live at a distance from their ex, summer time means an extended time without their children. Yes, it can be hard. But it is also part of being this kind of family -- divorced parents who care about and love their children but live far apart. Children take their cues from us. The school year parent can make a major contribution to a successful transition to their other home.
If you are the school year parent, here are some ideas used by families like yours to help children transition:
1. Check your attitude. The kids aren't going for a "visit." They are going to live with their other parent for a while. Their other parent needs to assume responsibility for daily care in order to know the children in a meaningful way. The kids need to refresh their relationship with the other significant adult in their lives with up close and personal time. You can probably use some time without the stress of balancing job and childcare and household chores. Done well, the kids' change of residence for a month or more of summer can be a win for everyone.
2. Make sure to communicate important changes in the children's lives so the summer parent is prepared. Ideally this has been going on anyway through regular emails and Skype calls. But you may need to provide more specifics of medical or dental issues, changes in food preferences or interests or the emergence of a new level of maturity or a new difficult behavior. Equally important is to let the other parent know about social changes in your kids' lives such as a change in the friendship circle or the importance to your kids of having a particular fashion sense this year.
3. Spend some special time with the kids before they leave. If you can, take a few days off and have a long weekend vacation or "stay-cation" with them. Parting on a positive note will help both you and the children manage the goodbye.
4. Come up with a "goodbye ritual" that you will repeat every year. Family rituals that provide some predictability help kids feel safe. It could be as simple as a special kind of hug or a last-minute gift that you tuck into their backpack only when they are getting on the bus or plane. It's a rule in one family that people keep waving until they are out of sight of each other. Another family I know actually has a little song they sing when the kids leave for the summer months. Yes, it may seem corny. But now that the kids are preteens they still insist on singing the goodbye song as one of the ways they transition to the other home.
5. Make a plan for how you will stay in touch. You want to be in contact but you don't want to be intrusive. Talk with the kids and your former spouse about how much contact might be too much or too little. Do the kids need a nightly check-in? How about a Skype visit every few days? Ideally, the arrangement should mirror what has been going on all year with the other parent.
6. Send along a little gift for the kids to give to their other parent. It doesn't need to be expensive or fancy. It can be some candy or a new board game to share with the children, for example. The symbolism is important. It lets the kids know that you are in favor of them spending time with their other parent. Further, opening the present gives the other parent and the kids something to focus on during the awkward first hour of transitioning to being together.
Now -- let yourself relax in the knowledge that the kids are with the other adult who loves them best. Take advantage of the child-free time as a time to pursue an interest, visit with friends or just get some extra rest. Before you know it, it will be time to do the back to school shopping and to take on the full responsibility of daily parenting again.
Follow Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MHartwellWalker