Jennifer Van Luven, MSW, LCSW, CDM
Summer is one of the most dreaded times for divorced parents. It is challenging to manage the child custody arrangements. The school year equates to a set parenting schedule, with designated days, times and transitions. But in the summer months, that set schedule is not as necessary and needing to be so defined. Communication with your co-parent is important for both kids and parents to get the most out of their time. Before school lets out for the summer, review the co-parenting plan with your co-parent. Even the most detailed parenting plans will need some adjustments while the kids are on summer break.
Children really look forward to summer. After a long, hard school year, they are looking forward to spending days in the sun, playing with their friends and having fun. For your kids to have a carefree summer, it requires careful consideration, planning and flexibility by both you and your co-parent. Here are some simple guidelines to follow for a less stressful summer for everyone:
Plan Ahead In order to avoid conflict, it is best to plan the summer months and schedules far in advance. This alleviates conflict over vacation dates and family get-togethers. Come to an agreement on how you will divide the time with the children. Working out a custody schedule that works best for the children and your selves is the way to go. When working on the schedule, remember to put your children first and keep in mind that this is a fun time of the year for kids, the time when most memories are made.
For older children and simplicity matters, most families agree to divide the summer in half. Younger children do best with a shortened length of time, such as two weeks with each parent, which tends to be long enough away from the other. Often parents with a good co-parenting relationship prefer to avoid schedules during the summer months, but this can often cause stress. It’s better to have a well-defined schedule that allows for flexibility rather than have no schedule at all. This will also be helpful if you want to book a trip in advance. Once you have your parenting time agreed, you’ll have more flexibility to make your summer plans.
Speak to the Kids It’s important that you involve your children and their input in making summer plans. That way you can factor in their needs and what they would like to do. This is especially important for older children. Ask them about the things they would like to do this summer. Work with your co-parent to take everyone’s wishes into consideration.
Coordinate Vacations You will probably both want to take the kids away for a vacation at some point during the summer. Coordinate with each other as early as possible and try to be co-operative. If your co-parent is planning a vacation with the kids, tell them to have a great time! Encourage your children to have fun with their other parent. Let them know that you want them to have a healthy relationship with both parents. Kids will often feel guilty. They may be reluctant to go on the trip if they think it’s going to leave a parent alone and feeling bad.
If you’re taking the kids away for a vacation, be respectful and considerate of the other parent’s feelings. Make sure they have a complete itinerary and all the information they need and feel completely comfortable with the plan. It’s not fair to leave a parent wondering where their child is. If either of you are planning a vacation with the children, the other parent absolutely has the right to be given a specific itinerary and a way to contact their child. Work with your co-parent to set up the logistics to make this happen so that you both feel comfortable.
If you both want to take the children on vacation during the same week, this can be problematic. It’s a good opportunity to really consider what is best for your children and what they might prefer to do. A conversation with both parents and the child can be helpful in this situation. Try to look for the compromise and discuss ways you can accommodate each other’s wishes.
When on vacation, remember that there will be times when your kids miss the other parent. Respect your children’s feelings and show them that you understand that even though vacations are fun, the change in routine and missing the other parent can cause kids added stress. Allow them frequent contact with the other parent to alleviate the feelings of missing them. In the end, this will help the child to have a good time and reduce the upset.
Summer Camps and Childcare If you’re both working, decide who is going to organize summer camps and childcare. You can each take responsibility for organizing camps and childcare during your parenting time. Or you can plan out the summer camps that your children will be attending and share the responsibility of signing up and paying for the camps. It’s best to agree upfront how you’re dividing costs and how you’re choosing activities.
Be Flexible While making your summer plans, always think about giving your kids lasting summer memories. If your heart is set on doing something with the kids this summer, and your co-parent doesn’t agree, take a breath and try to find a compromise. Work together to find an agreeable resolution. If you cooperate with each other, you will be able to find a solution that everyone is happy with. Eventually, the two of you will figure out a plan that works for everybody.
Making Memories Whatever your summer plans, remember that what children want most is to spend time with you. This becomes even more important for kids moving between two homes. Whatever time you are spending with your children this summer, give them your full attention and make the most of it. If they are spending time with the other parent, let them enjoy it. Do not inundate them with phone calls and constant checking in. When they return, be sure to ask them all about it without prying or digging for gossip. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing when you are not together. Make sure they know you support their relationship with their other parent. Let them know that their happiness is what really counts. Make sure your kids know that you both love them. Take this break from routine to create some wonderful memories that will last them a lifetime.
Jennifer Webbe VanLuven, MSW, LCSW
received her Master of Social Work from Saint Louis University with a concentration in family systems and law. Jennifer provides private therapy dealing with adult issues, depression, anxiety, marital and relationship issues, as well as adolescent development/ behavioral issues.
Jennifer has extensive experience in family law and court room testifying. She assists couples in a peaceful resolution, where continued communication is imperative for raising healthy children. Along with private therapy services, Jennifer provides services to families who are in the midst of transition, as a Parent Coordinator, Co-Parent Counselor, Custody Evaluator and a Divorce Consultant.