While all children look forward to the relaxation that summer brings, kids whose parents are no longer together must deal with the complication of having two parents who sometimes seem unable to make arrangements.
Tasks that require simple planning, such as preparing for camp or accommodating last-minute plans can sometimes leave kids exposed to conflict and division. The result: summer days that should be happy and carefree are stressful instead because parents find it difficult to put kids first.
Summer parenting schedules are usually different from those in place during the school year. Time with one parent may be extended because he or she lives far away. Special travel plans may call for a unique schedule to be created. But even the most exciting plans can be ruined if constant bickering gets in the way.
With the right attitude and planning, you can make sure your kids go back to school with warm summer memories that include both parents. Julie Gowthorpe, author of “Tainted Love: Why Your Ex is Making You Miserable and What You Can Do About It,” shares these strategies for divorced or separated parents.
1. Avoid parental power struggles.
Summer is a time for kids to get outside, play with friends and explore new interests. It’s NOT the time for parents to “flex their muscles” over who gets to make what decision. If Mom registers the child for camp and it’s a camp that the child will enjoy, accept it. If Dad plans Wednesday night baseball games that the child will enjoy, accept it. Parents should remember that kids should be encouraged to have fun with both parents. If one parent has the opportunity to expose a child to a new or fun event, this should be encouraged.
2. Respect your child’s interests.
Perhaps your child has always participated in a summer camp that she enjoyed or joined a summer soccer league before you broke up. Although your life has changed dramatically since then, your child’s life should stay as close to the same as possible. Continue with activities that have always meant “summer” to your child, even if you would prefer to spend summer differently yourself. Kids’ interests come first.
3. Give older children and teens a voice in summer planning.
Avoid dictating how the summer will unfold for older kids. If you and your ex have outlined which parent is in charge and when, then let the kids decide how they want to spend their weeks with each parent. This is especially important for teens that look forward to free time with friends and may have other priorities such as work, college applications, concerts, sports or day trips.
4. Recognize that children worry, even if they don’t tell you.
This point should be remembered at all times. If Dad seems upset because “Mom is not being flexible” or Mom is sad because “Dad is getting in the way of summer plans,” children feel caught in the middle. When things don’t go smoothly for you as a couple, keep your feelings to yourself. Talk things over with a friend or find a qualified couples therapist who will listen and offer guidance. Focus on minimizing stress for your children, even if you occasionally feel you are giving in to the other parent.
5. Celebrate the other parent’s efforts to make summer fun.
Show enthusiasm if your former mate plans an activity or outing. Remind your children that you’re happy that they’re able to have fun summer activities, regardless of who organizes them.
6. Avoid describing parenting time with your child as “my time.”
Whether kids are with Mom or Dad, the time belongs to the child, not the parent. Too often, parents argue that children can’t participate in activities organized by the other parent because it’s “my time.” Remember that your children have one life and you’re part of it. They’re not there to meet your needs.
7. Use summer to enhance parent-child time.
If distance between your home and your former mate’s home is substantial, use the summer to maximize the child’s time with the parent who isn’t in charge for most of the school year. While this is a good general rule, keep in mind the age of the children and their emotional tolerance for being away from the parent who provides most of the care year-round. A good strategy is to ask yourself what timeframe will best allow for your child to have a positive, stress-free visit.
Committing to a child-centered summer schedule will build or reinforce a healthy parent-child relationship. It may even ease tensions between the two of you. Children look to their parents to act in their best interests; this includes reducing stress, avoiding conflict in their presence and ensuring that they have positive summer experiences.
Parents should reflect on their willingness and ability to put their own feelings about their former mates aside to meet the needs of their children. When parents take purposeful, conscious steps in making summer vacation enjoyable for their kids, this is a step forward for everyone. Allow summer to enrich your children’s experiences and create loving memories with both parents.
Need help? Work with a skilled Couples therapist who has helped hundreds near Phoenix
Janae Munday is a licensed clinical social worker providing couples therapy and marriage counseling near Phoenix, Arizona. Whether you are separated, divorced or still living together while contemplating a change in your relationship, Janae is there to provide expert support while you work on important issues such as child care and family structure.
It’s often hard to set painful feelings aside and work together for the good of the kids, but with the right help, it can be done. Get started now by requesting a confidential consultation with Janae.