Kids anticipate summer from the moment they first go back to school in the fall. They fantasize about sleeping in every morning, relaxing days with no homework or teachers telling them what to do, lounging by the pool, playing with friends, and vacations.
Parents have a different view of the summertime season because, to them, summer represents weeks on end of trying to entertain kids and keep them busy (and out of trouble), childcare issues (and extra expense) because they still need to work, but now the kids have nowhere to be every day, the extra expense and effort of extra meals and snacks every day, camps and activities, and so on for three months!
Divorced parents have extra wrinkles in summertime parenting because in the midst of vacation plans and sunshine, children still need to alternate between homes and typical co-parenting issues fail to take a vacation. For some, co-parenting challenges may be amplified by the transition to a new season.
Every divorced parenting plan is different, so every situation and set of problems will be unique. Some parents have their children for an extended period during the summer to make up for limited time during the school year, while other parents continue with regular pass-offs from week-to-week.
Here are some of the common complaints and pitfalls of summer and some ways you may consider overcoming them:
Your child wants to participate in an activity that crosses over visitation time. Summer brings about an abundance of sports, camps, and other activities that your child might be enthused about joining. Who doesn’t want the kids to be a part of the fun and enriching activities where they can make friends and plenty of memories? This shouldn’t be a problem so long as both parents communicate about the activity in advance, work out the details, and agree to the investment of time and money before enrollment.
Consider how you will accommodate activities. Are you available for all the times required? Would you and your ex be able to cooperate if one of you can’t make it to all required events? How will you explain it to your child if you have too many conflicts with the requirements of the activity (e.g. cost, amount of driving needed, or hours) and you have to say “no”?
One parent makes plans for the child without first consulting with the other parent. One of the biggest problems with this scenario is when one parent acts on behalf of everyone and signs up a child without buy-in from all parties, then expects the other parent to commit to the expense of the activity (which for some sports and camps can be hundreds of dollars) and the time involved in an activity (e.g. a sports league might require practices several days per week plus regular games).
You don’t want to be the “bad guy” by saying “no”; but, you also have a right to your own plans and schedule with your child. Again, conflict can be avoided by discussing plans before acting.
Of course, each parent has the right to plan whatever they want on their own week, and no one has the right to dictate what the plans will be in someone else’s home and over someone else’s time. Unfortunately, some exes think that they do!
My children like to participate in certain activities each summer, and I always hope to be able to sign them up and send them. I have no control over when any of these activities are scheduled, so all I can do is hope that these events will take place on my time. If I luck out, I’ll send them. If not, I have to hope for the best next summer. If the activity means that much to me or the kids, I can always offer information to their dad in the event that he might like to send them, or I could propose a trade; otherwise, I have to respect the boundaries of his time versus mine.
As a general rule, I have learned to steer completely away from activities not on my time. I can’t speak for what my ex has going on or what he wants to do during that time. If I don’t have respect for his time, how can I expect him to show respect for mine?
Your teen wants to get a summer job. Getting a job is a step most teens will want to take as they mature. While this is an opportunity to grow in responsibility and work skills, it can be challenging to maintain a job when he or she still has to travel between homes, especially if not yet driving or if both parents don’t reside in the same town.
Will both parents be able to ensure the teen gets to work for every shift, even if the job is not close to home? What if one parent agrees to the arrangement and the other does not? Could the teen only work on the agreeing parent’s time?
Your ex plans a vacation or your child wishes to travel during your time. Your ex should know better than to plan something during your time, and should ask to make a trade or for your permission before making any plans that will remove the child from your care on your time. Ideally, both parents would discuss big events, such as a family wedding, that cannot be moved to another time and cooperate to even out deviations in the schedule. Otherwise, there’s no excuse to make plans on one another’s time.
As children grow older, they are offered more opportunities with clubs, work, school, and others, meaning that activities may arise that will interfere with your time together. You as a parent will have to decide what is more important: the week that you could share together, or something special that your child wants to do? It’s hard to let go, but also part of them becoming an adult.
Hopefully, your child (or your ex) is not purposely looking for alternatives to spending visitation time with you. If you feel that you are being avoided or alienated, you should try to talk to your child to make sure everything is alright with your relationship. If you suspect that the school trip with the Spanish club is really a ploy to not spend time with you, it might be time to see a counselor together to get to the root of the problem.
Summer can consist of seemingly endless days of fun and frolic, or become a headache because of new variations of divorce drama that show up at your door just as the last school bell rings. You may save yourself infinite frustration by communicating plans and ideas with your ex, respecting the boundaries from one parent’s visitation time to the nest, and troubleshooting through new experiences, such as a summer job, to help your child make the most of their vacation.
Not every ex will be willing to show the same courtesy in return; but, as always, you should strive to set the bar for how cooperation and conflict should be addressed.
Be sure to tune in to my special podcast about co-parenting through summer!