With schools out for summer, it’s normal for parenting routines to change. Bedtimes tend to be later, kids might attend camp or lessons, and maybe a special trip is planned. For divorced or separated parents, summertime can mean even more changes in your family life, some of which may be stressful, especially if your kids will spend extended time with their other parent or your agreed parenting time schedule changes over school vacation.
Not sure how you will manage summer vacation as a co-parent? Here are 5 tips on how to cope and keep your cool.
Spell Out Summertime Custody Arrangements: Whether you are a divorced parent with a formal child custody order in place, or a separated parent with an informal agreement for what will happen over the summer, take time to clearly communicate with your former spouse the parenting time plan for summer vacation. This can be as simple as printing out calendar month pages for June, July and August, and penciling in when custody swaps will take place (or you can use a co-parenting app to do the scheduling by smartphone). It can help all involved to also note the camps, lessons and other activities your child has planned. For example, if you hand off your child to your former spouse on Friday after a grueling week of soccer camp, your child might benefit from some lower key relaxation for a few days. If communicating with your former spouse is still difficult, keep in mind that sharing information will ultimately benefit your child.
Low Conflict Custody Swaps: Speaking of communicating, another smart summertime tip is to get in the habit of confirming arrival times and locations for custody transfers. Because they might be very different from the usual school year routine, it’s a good rule of thumb to send a quick text or email to confirm a meeting time/place. Something as simple as sending a neutral statement such as, “Reminder: we will meet at the library at 4 pm on July 2,” or responding to this kind of request with, “Yes, I agree we will meet at the library at 4pm on July 2,” could significantly minimize family tension and provide for smoother transitions for all of you.
Don’t Worry About Fancy Vacations: If your vacation budget is stretched this year, it’s okay to cancel out on this year’s expensive trip to some faraway place. Kids just want to be happy and not feel subject to the tensions that may accompany the end of a marriage, and above all else, we know that children of divorce value quality time with their parents, in whatever form that takes.
What does this mean for your summer plans? For relaxed, budget-friendly fun, look for opportunities close to home that promote family togetherness. Spend the day at the Jersey Shore and build a sandcastle together. Go camping or spend the day hiking with your kids in one of New Jersey’s state parks. Take advantage of the many family-friendly concerns and festivals happening in New Jersey this summer. Feeling less stressed about money can help you to keep your focus on your kids.
If Your Kids Visit Their Other Parent For Extended Time: Practically speaking, if your parenting time plan calls for your children to spend extended time with their other parent (or the other parent will take the kids on an extended trip), be sure the parent has copies of the child’s health insurance cards, immunization documentation, and adequate supplies of any medications the child may take. In return, ask your former spouse to provide a simple itinerary of what will happen during the visit or trip. Some parents have this request to be provided trip information written into their child custody order.
Help Your Children Cope with Change: The changes brought about by divorce can be difficult for kids (of all ages) to deal with, and many times, the differences between life before and after their parents’ divorce, is magnified in summer. Your kids may feel unsure or disloyal if the parent has a new romantic partner they need to spend time with, or exhibit anger or resentment about missing out on their friends and usual activities at home. If your child will spend extended time with their remarried parent who now has other children, the stress of getting along with step-siblings may overshadow the excitement of seeing their parent.
How do you deal with this mixed bag of emotions? Embrace your child’s need for security. Good ground rules to put in place may include clearing it in advance with the other parent that your child should be able to call or text you as needed. If it’s a tween or teen feeling unhappy about missing friends from home, the parent could provide for opportunities (cell, text, Skype, etc.), for the child to communicate with friends. In some cases, a friend may actually come with the child for part of the visit. If step-siblings are present, help your blended family blend well by providing more structure activities to help children get to know one another. Reserving special bonding time for your visiting children is also important — this summer and beyond.
Negotiating child custody and need help coming up with workable solutions for parenting time over summer vacation? We can help. For all your divorce and child custody needs, please contact us to schedule an initial attorney consultation.