Whenever there are any holidays, spring breaks, or when the summer rolls around, there can be much tension while parents are trying to work out schedules for the children to spend time with each parent. In my practice over the years, I've noticed that though estranged couples agree to regular visitation schedules as part of their settlement agreement (or the court orders a schedule) most parents rarely stick to them. One parent or the other seems to request (and yes, often demand) a change in the agreed-upon schedule.
Given that family circumstances often change -- people remarry, people relocate -- set schedules may have to be adjusted. That said, even with no major changes, no one estranged couple usually stays in step with a regimented plan. As such, the following are my five tips for staying out of skirmishes or all-out fights with your ex so that both of you, and your kids, can enjoy the summer:
1. Develop a flexible mindset about changing the visitation schedule over the summer. Rather than being rigid by insisting that your ex honor the schedule the two of you agreed upon as part of your custody arrangement, tell yourself things could change from summer to summer. Getting your head in the right place is your starting point.
2. Give to get. Let your ex know that should you be willing to deviate from your visitation agreement to accommodate his/her summer schedule(s) that you would like a "trade chip" in return. Don't build up resentment over the summers for doing all the giving. Make sure he/she knows that you expect some reciprocity when next year rolls around. For instance, maybe you would like to plan a trip with the kids to Hawaii the first two weeks of July, rather than stick to the first two weeks of August, as usual. Communicate what it is you expect for your flexibility.
3. Plan ahead, way ahead. If you or your ex are last minute vacationers, and such requested vacations don't fall within the court order, your request might be rejected. Instead, think ahead by allowing plenty of time to rearrange the summer schedule to show consideration to the other side. It can be disruptive and annoying to all involved when you make a last minute request, especially for the children, who are bounced back and forth regularly anyway. Put the children first.
4. Be a good role model. Don't ask your child (children) to do your bidding for a schedule change. In other words, be a stand-up parent and deal directly with your ex. Not only is it uncomfortable and/or awkward for the kids to request a change, it could appear to your ex that you are manipulating the situation by using your child (children) as a shield for getting what you want. Once you are parents you are always parents. Though you may have had your issues with one another during the marriage, find a way to get along when negotiating your current issues which may include modifying your summer schedule. Don't put the children in the middle. You should strive to maintain a civil and "professional" relationship with your ex, always. Handle summer schedule changes without asking the kid(s) to intervene on your behalf. Don't forget that the way you handle any uneasy situation is always a teachable moment for the children.
5. Plan something fun while the children are away with your ex. Two weeks without seeing the kids can make a parent feel anxious and sad, especially if you are the one with primary custody. Suddenly the house can seem quiet and empty without the kids. Don't start counting the days until they return. Promise yourself you will take advantage of this much-deserved time off from parenthood and plan activities you never get to do. These activities don't have to be your own travel plans -- or anything costly or extravagant. They might include simple tasks, like finally planting those flowers in the pots in your back yard, lining up movies to watch on Netflix, or cleaning out that closet you never seem to get to. You can start now for next year. Scribble out your summer "bucket list" by next February so that when June arrives you have something to fill the void; something to look forward to.