This article comes from Carol Mapp, LCSW, an Arlington-based therapist with Integrated Healthworks.
Most children look forward to the summer break. It is a time for them to dash about in swimsuits and flip-flops after being trapped by the demands of school and schedules the rest of the year. There’s a burst of activities as summer’s commending presence descends, yet many divorced parents find this change in schedule daunting.
A key principle in collaborative divorce is for parents to stay focused on the children’s emotional well-being by cooperating with one another when scheduling parenting time. Children benefit when parents engage in thoughtful planning, communicate respectfully, and are willing to be flexible.
1. Check the parenting plan. Providing timely notice to the other parent is always the respectful choice. The earlier co-parents communicate their plans, the better. April 1st is the most common date of notice. Parents will want to double check that vacations don’t overlap one another. Children need to spend quality time with both parents. Parents must take in consideration the holiday schedule, which includes Memorial Day, Father’ Day, and July 4th unless set forth in their parenting plan or by mutual agreement.
2. Utilize an online calendar as a repository for the children’s summer activities. Be sure that both parents have access to the account (including passwords, if needed) so that dates, times, and information regarding the children’s summer schedule can be added.
3. With children out of school, childcare might change. Many summer programs fill up fast so “the early bird gets the worm.” Parents will want to discuss these options. With many parents working for much of the summer, alternative childcare providers maybe needed. Parents will want to provide information to one another regarding any individuals that will be providing care for their children during the summer months.
1. Parenting plans can’t predict all changes that children encounter as they age. Children’s activities and interests change. Parents are encouraged to schedule a family meeting with co-parents present to discuss expectations for the summer. These expectations might include: behavior while parents are at work, appropriateness of a part time job, caregiving for younger children, adjustments to bedtime and curfew, as well as cost of and participation in summer activities.
2. When vacation planning, provide a detailed itinerary including flight information, travel route (if traveling by car or train), lodging information (relative’s home or hotel), phone numbers, departure and arrival dates. This information is provided for the safety of the children and contact information in case of an emergency, not as a way to control, or is controlled by the other parent.
3. With the change from school to summer, alterations to the schedule are inevitable. When trying to coming up with solutions to issues, instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands, statements should be framed as requests. Requests can begin as “Would you be willing to … ?” or “Can we try … ?”
1. There are times when parents believe that their children are “letting them down” during summer parenting time. School-aged children may want to spend “quality time” with their friends while school is out. Children may not want to visit “Dear Old Aunt Sue” over the summer. Children may appear disappointed or become irritable with aspects of the family vacation. Observing and reviewing the expectations that parents have for their children might shed some light on this issue. Being responsive and proactive can nip much of this behavior in the bud.
2. Learning to adapt a “go with the flow” attitude is probably the most widely-used parenting skill in the world. Parents need to be prepared for “glitches” by having a Plan B in the event of illness, lack of funds, and change in work schedules. It makes kids feel safe and secure because they know their parent can handle anything that comes up.
3. Sometimes unexpected situations arise and one parent may request a change to the summer schedule. “Walking in the other parent’s shoes” is advised, and the consideration of a reasonable requested is often appreciated and reciprocated.
1. Support the children’s relationship with the other parent and avoid competition. Going on expensive vacations or building a blanket tent is all the same to most children. Kids just want to spend time with their parents. As long as parents are present and attentive to their children’s needs, children are happy.
2. Parents can model respectful behavior by being the person they want their children to be. Parents should be on time, follow the parenting plan to the fullest extent possible, and hold their tongue when needed.
3. Parents who openly support and encourage their children’s time with the other parent preserves their children’s self esteem. Summer is no exception.
Children deserve a happy childhood. Parents are well-served to remember the golden rule of co-parenting: What do you want your children to remember about their childhood?