School’s out, and summertime is in full swing. Most parents, especially working parents, meet these months with a mix of excitement (picnics! pool time!), relief (less morning rush, no homework to help with), and anxiety: What on earth will we do with these kids all summer?
And for divorced families juggling jobs and childcare and trying to organize around custody orders, the dog days can bring a whole bunch of hurdles and an extra layer of stress.
Summer break is an important and special time for kids and families—you want it to be carefree, happy, and fun-filled, and spend quality time together. It’s essential to plan well, minimize conflict with your ex, and avoid scheduling nightmares.
Here are ten expert tips for navigating summer break as a divorced parent.
Plan ahead—in two ways.
First, during your divorce and custody process, create a parenting plan with guidelines for holidays and vacations, including summer break. The plan might involve travel or time away conditions, advance notice, rules about including a new partner, etc. These details can be easy to overlook as you plan daily life, but summer is different and needs special consideration. Since custody orders must be followed, it’s advisable to have summer arrangements built-in.
Then, each year, make plans well in advance. It’s a good idea to schedule a yearly meeting (or phone call or email) in February to discuss the summer. Set a date to lock in plans.
You’re not married anymore, but you’re still co-parents. And it’s in everyone’s best interest— especially the kids’—for you to set aside difficult emotions and find a way to cooperate. In addition to schedules and travel plans, try to agree on camps and activities, cost-sharing, and things like consistent rules for the kids. Then be proactive about keeping it harmonious. For example, when traveling, share itineraries, flight numbers, and hotel information well in advance without being asked. Be generous about keeping the kids in touch with the other parent—facilitate phone and video calls, and send postcards.
Keep the lines of communication open. If you’re willing to negotiate, maybe swap some days here or there to accommodate your co-parent’s plans. They will likely reciprocate.
Involve the kids in plans—but not in conflict. Tweens and teens should have a say in how they spend their summer. Find out what they’re hoping to do—what camps, activities, or programs are they interested in doing? Are there places they want to go? Are there special occasions that are important to work around? However, if you and your ex are butting heads over how to sort out logistics, keep that between you.
Be mindful of setting up unrealistic expectations. It’s not a contest. Don’t compete or engage in one-upmanship. Just because your ex took the kids to Legoland, you don’t have to break the bank for a trip to Disney. And if you are the parent with more resources, resist the urge to go over the top.
Make the most of your time together. When you log off from work, log off. Put away devices. Give your family your full attention. What matters is connecting and having fun. It doesn’t have to be flashy or cost a fortune. Beach days and game nights, kite-flying and cupcake baking, art projects, badminton, and backyard campouts are just as valuable for bonding and making memories. Consider your kids’ ages and interests and plan appropriate activities. Your 5-year-old isn’t ready for that Grand Canyon hike but may enjoy a local one.
Embrace a little chaos at home. For kids, summer is also about hanging out with friends, which can be a big help, primarily if you work from home. Yes, they make noise and go through the food in your pantry like a swarm of locusts, but it’s hard to beat a houseful of friends when it comes to keeping your kids happy and engaged.
Prepare your child for time away. No matter how you feel about it, stay upbeat as you prepare your child to spend vacation time with your co-parent. Tell them how fun it will be and how much the other parent loves them. Explain that you’ll miss each other but will often talk and see each other soon. Let them help pack, and take along a “lovey” toy.
Be good to yourself. It can be hard not to feel lonely and anxious when your kids are away from you, especially if they’re on an extended vacation with your ex. But it would help if you had this time to yourself. Take advantage of the opportunity to rest and recharge, whatever that means.
Even if you have travel provisions in your parenting plan—and especially if you don’t—it’s advisable to get written permission, preferably notarized, from your ex when traveling out of state or country with your children. If you and your ex come to a stalemate about a scheduling issue, or if one parent won’t grant permission for travel, you can request with the court, but you will likely need to prove that the change is in the child’s best interests.
At SFLG, we’re veteran family law attorneys experienced in navigating the fine points of custody and visitation. In these complex and contentious disputes, we aim to keep the proceedings as amicable and straightforward as possible. For spouses with children, your chosen approach will affect your future relationship as co-parents, and a practical parenting agreement is almost always preferable to a judge’s mandate.
By Debra Schoenberg