Seven Tips for Planning Summer Holidays: A Co-parenting Guide
Working out a schedule to accommodate their children’s summer holidays can be a gruelling task for most divorced parents. Co-parents who can work together to meet the individual needs of their children are much more successful in formulating mutually agreed upon plans.
Here are seven guidelines for making your co-parenting summer holidays fun for everyone:
Create a co-parenting plan
If you haven’t done so already, sit down with your co-parent, and a mediator or parent coach if necessary, and devise a mutually agreed upon plan for parenting.
If you are working from a previously drawn up plan, keep in mind that an access schedule that worked in the past may not continue to be in the best interests of the family now. As children grow, their needs and interests change. Parent’s may have moved or changed jobs. It is recommended that you use the co-parenting plan as a working document that you can revisit from time to time and make changes when warranted.
It is all right to deviate from an existing court order or co-parenting plan if both ex-spouses agree. If changes to the plan are necessary, it’s best to put those in writing and have both co-parents signed off on them. Just a handwritten note signed and dated by both exes will suffice. This will avoid any misunderstandings in the future.
Share vacation plans with your ex as soon as possible
When it comes to planning the summer holidays with the kids, the earlier co-parents have these discussions the less likely it is for either to be surprised by untold plans. Parents should make their requests early in the New Year, again making sure to exchange plans in writing. Many divorced couples choose alternating years to take the children on vacation. This type of schedule avoids arguments over competing requests.
Summer isn’t always predictable and often certain dates of the year cannot be avoided – birthdays, graduation, family reunions, etc. These opportunities often require both parents participate. It is important for parents to work together to make it possible for the children to enjoy these events, making it a good idea to have these conversations in advance as well.
Don't force family gatherings on your children if you and your spouse cannot get along. Your child will be happier if they are not subjected to arguments, snide remarks or other hurtful behaviours. If you know you can’t get along in the same room together, plan to have separate celebrations with your child.
Share the costs
Who is paying for what should also be a part of the co-parenting plan. Flights, summer camps, sports lessons and extracurricular activities can be costly for just one parent to pay. Consider offering to pay what you had budgeted to your kids summer vacation trip or camp and asking your ex to cover the rest. Don't ever tell the kids, "Mom can't afford it, so you can't do it." Putting the responsibility on only one parent for a child’s missed opportunity runs the risk of alienating that parent.
Get the kids input
It is important to have well laid out plans; children do better when they have routine and structure. It’s also important for the kids to spend extra time with the parent they don’t spend as much time with during the winter months so relationships remain intact. However, it is also very important that the kids have time to be kids.
Make sure their needs and interests are taken into consideration during the vacation planning phase. Instead of informing children about plans, talk with them about how they would like to spend their summer. You might find out your plans to take them on an exotic vacation is usurped by their desire to stay in town and play soccer. This way you avoid resentment caused by spending unnecessary money and taking along a sulky kid on holiday.
Giving children a voice about what they would like to do also alleviates the burden of one parent having to explain to the other parent why their child does not want to go to the farm this year on summer break.
Support your child’s relationship with your ex. If traveling with the kids, give the other parent contact information and help your children maintain consistent contact with them by phone, email or video chat. Sign any travel documents needed if your ex is taking the children out of the country. If your co-parent doesn’t see your children on a regular basis, make sure they understand your child's capabilities when it comes to swimming, hiking, or other activities. You want their experience together to be safe and successful.
Flexibility is especially important when new partners and their kids are introduced into the mix. If you're the new girlfriend/boyfriend, don’t interfere when it comes to summer vacation planning. Allow the co-parents and their children to work this out. This is an opportunity for you to get to know your partner’s children; what their passions and talents are. What better way to involve your self in someone else’s life than to do with them the things they like doing!
Changes in routine can create stress for some kids. Some may not react to vacationing with the other parent in the way the parent wants them to. Children may miss their other parent. Your child may be sad at times and resist your efforts to be with them. It can be easy to take this personally and resent your child’s feelings. Instead of getting upset, put yourself in your child’s shoes. Offer comfort and understanding. It will take time for your child to adjust to changes in their routine.
Both parents should prepare their child for being away from their other parent. Remind them that they are going to be with a parent who loves them and is so excited to be able to spend time with them. Tell your child you may miss each other, but you'll be together again very soon. Pack special stuffed animals, favourite toys and a picture of you; things that will provide comfort away from home. As the parent who is spending time with your child, appreciate your child’s need to have these things.
Do not dwell on how hard the separation will be for you. Your child doesn’t need to worry about how you are coping alone. Instead, give them permission to enjoy themselves and have fun. As the parent who will be with the child, ensure your child that they can call or email their other parent on a daily basis (or whatever arrangement you and your co-parent have made regarding contact).
Avoid competition with the ex
Don’t try to one-up the other with who has the better holiday planned with the kids. This only creates animosity between co-parents and guilt in children. Kids just want to spend time with their parent; they don’t often care if that’s tenting in the backyard or a trip to Disney. As long as the parent is attentive and meeting the child’s interests, the child will be happy.
Dyan Eybergen BA, RN © 2010