For kids, summer often means fun-filled family vacations. But for children of divorce, it also can be stressful as parents make arrangements to divide the extra free time.
To help children transition between parents over break, local experts say the most important factor is adhering to a parental plan—and ensuring children know that plan. Parents should work together to make a summer schedule, including children’s extracurricular activities, medical appointments, any school assignments and, most important, out-of-town vacation plans.
For extracurricular activities, parents should share sign-up dates, schedules and transportation details. “Parents also should coordinate on any summer reading or other school assignments so the child is prepared when they return in the fall,” says Judy Berkowitz, executive director of Kids In The Middle, an organization that provides counseling to help children and parents thrive during and after divorce.
Each parent also should know the children’s special needs, such as medications, says Sophya Raza, a family lawyer with Danna McKitrick.
With regard to major vacations, plans should be finalized and communicated months in advance for the comfort of the children, as well as their parents. When couples divorce, it is standard procedure to create a plan that includes when each parent can take a vacation with the children, Raza says. “Keep in mind that you cannot schedule your vacation around other special days where the other parent has custody, such as Mother’s or Father’s Day or the other parent’s birthday,” she adds. Annual summer holidays, such as the Fourth of July, also should alternate between parents. And if scheduling conflicts or other issues arise, make an effort to be flexible and avoid negative discussions around the children.
Once a parent books a vacation, ensure the plans are discussed in advance and in a positive tone with the children, Berkowitz says. “Be happy and excited for the children so they don’t feel guilty about spending time with the other parent.”
Parents should share with one another the trip details, including an itinerary with any flight numbers, hotel names and the child’s contact information. Make arrangements for the child to communicate with other parent during the vacation—whether it is by cell phone, email or Skype, Berkowitz says. And if the child is still having a difficult time being away from one parent, have a backup plan. “Ask the child if they want to buy them a gift, draw them a picture or send them a postcard,” Raza recommends.
Whether the summer brings a vacation or just time at the other parent’s house, Berkowitz says it is important to stay on the child’s routine schedule. “Bedtime rituals such as reading a favorite book can be very comforting if that also happens at the other parent’s house.”
And while summer is a fun time, continue to be a parent—not a best friend, Berkowitz says. “It shouldn’t always be fun at one home and homework and chores at the other home,” she notes. “Being the fun mom or dad is not being a parent.”
After a child returns from vacation time with one parent, the other adult should avoid being overly inquisitive, Berkowitz advises. “Listen to them about what they did, but don’t pry or spy.”
Above all, Berkowitz recommends: “Let them be kids.”
“Even though their parents are divorced, kids should still get to relax, have fun and enjoy their summer.”
Easing the transition:
- Inform the child in advance about the vacation plan
- Bring the child’s comfort item—a favorite photo, book or toy
- Arrange for the child to stay in touch with the other parent
- Stick to the child’s bedtime rituals
- Listen to the child’s concerns
Source: Kids In The Middle