Summer vacation can be a stressful for time for all parents. What to do with the kids? How to keep them busy? Which camp should they go to? How to deal with the huge expenses of childcare? These challenges, which every parent faces, become even more difficult for divorced or separated couples based on a number of factors:
No parenting plan or a vague parenting plan:
The parenting plan (custody agreement) is that part of the divorce agreement that deals with the kids. It defines custody as well as monetary issues related to the children, the parenting schedule (visitation) and any other issues related to raising the children. Among other things, it is supposed to deal with summer vacation. However, some parents may not have a Parenting Plan yet for a variety of reasons including that they are unofficially separated or they haven't completed the divorce process yet or they do have a custody agreement that has vague references to the summer that they find difficult to manage based on their work schedules.
Fewer finances as a result of divorce:
There is no rabbit in the hat when it comes to divorce. When you take one household income and divide it in two, most families will simply have less money. This makes preparing for summer vacation even more challenging. Some families who sent their kids to certain camps cannot afford to do that anymore. Other families deal with a stay at home parent who is now working and need to deal with childcare issues and costs that they didn't have before. Having less money creates stress for many divorced parents who wish to give their children the same or similar summer fun times before getting divorced.
Conflict between the parents and differences of opinion:
Parents may have different ideas and different parenting styles when it comes to the summer. They may have differences in their comfort level as far as being away from the children for certain period of time due to the summer parenting schedules or due to the children going away for camp. If the parents are not on best terms with each other, these differences can lead to tremendous amounts of stress and to numerous conflicts.
Here are some practical, hands on tips that can help divorced or separated parents plan for the summer with less stress, and less conflict:
Structure is key. Divorced or separated parents need to have a plan in place that defines ahead of time how their children will be spending the summers. It's important to know in advance if your child will attend camps and when they will be vacationing with each parent. This structure will eliminate your kids from feeling anxious and allow them to look forward to the summer.
Plan expenses carefully. Every working parent knows that childcare is a huge expense and it might not have been a concern when you were married. However, divorced and separated parents need to have a specific plan and clarity about how these expenses will be handled so there are no surprises. This also eliminates the burden falling on one parent. Seeking help from a divorce mediator can make this a seamless process.
Work out schedules in advance. Make a plan with your ex-spouse before summer break is upon you on the specific weeks when you will be spending time with your children. This avoids any unnecessary bickering over last minutes changes to your schedule. Sometimes, even with the best intentions, people leave their schedule flexible. While this may work for some divorced parents, it may turn out to be a disaster for others. Make sure you have structure to fall back on. You can always be flexible and change, but at least you have a plan in place.
Think of things from the other parent's perspective. If you come up with a plan that works great for you, but does not work for the other parent, it would be a waste of your time and energy to be upset and resentful. Instead, try to consider their perspective. What is the other parent's schedule like? What might work for them? This approach will help you come up with ideas that are more likely to be agreed upon more easily.
Don't make it personal. Agreeing on the summer parenting schedule should be detached from any other conflicts that you have. It is easier to deal with problems when you divide them into smaller units. So only think about the summer plan. It's important to not let the issues of the divorce influence your judgment as it relates to the summer plan. Parents need to put their feelings aside on how they feel about the divorce, any guilt they have and try to avoid outdoing the other parent. The goal for the summer plan should be clear, financially reasonable and easy to. It is a two-month period of time and you need a plan. That's all.
Look forward, not backwards. In order to plan successfully, look at any problems that might have come up in the past as far as the summer or as far as planning in a proactive way. Rather than being angry about conflicts that you might have had on these subjects, learn from them: what has triggered problems? What has worked? What might work going forward? The only way to deal with the past productively is if it is used for the benefit of everyone going forward.
Be realistic financially. Plan for the summer with a realistic budget in mind. Sit down and crunch the numbers and make an overall budget for the summer. Keep in mind what the other parent's financial capability is and what they can and cannot afford. The fact that the kids are accustomed to a certain camp or a certain lifestyle means nothing if you can't afford it.
Don't involve the kids in details. Children don't need to know who paid for what, who demanded what for them and who refused or agreed to do it. They need to know the the plan for their summer and that both of their parents want them to have a wonderful time and look forward to the time spent with them.
If handled correctly, planning ahead will allow both parents and kids to have a fun and joyful summer that is free of conflict and full of exciting things to do with both parents. Remember, this is about the well being of the kids. A plan in advance will allow all involved to have a wonderful summer.