Summer Break Co-Parenting
Jennifer Van Luven, MSW, LCSW, CDM
Summer. One of the most dreaded times for divorced parents as it is challenging to manage child custody arrangements. The school year is a set parenting schedule, with designated days, times and transitions. In the summer months, however, that set schedule is not as necessary and does not need to be so defined. Communication with the other parent is important for both kids and parents to get the most out of their time. Before the end of school for the year, parents should review the Parenting Plan together. Even the most detailed parenting plans generally need some adjustments as children age, particularly while the children are on summer break.
Children really look forward to summer. After a long, hard school year, they are looking forward to spending days in the sun, playing with their friends and having fun. For your children to have the carefree summer that they deserve, it requires careful consideration, planning and flexibility by both parents. Here are some simple guidelines that if followed should result in a less stressful summer for everyone:
Plan Ahead To try to avoid conflict, plan the schedule for summer months in advance. This will help alleviate conflict over vacation dates and family get-togethers. Come to an agreement on how you will divide the time with the children, even if you are just reaffirming the Parenting Plan that is in place. Working out a custody schedule that works best for the children and the parents is the best way to go. When working on the schedule, remember to put your children first and keep in mind that this is a fun time of the year for children, the time when good memories are made.
For older children and simplicity matters, most families agree to divide the summer in half. Younger children do best with a shortened length of time, such as two weeks with each parent, which tends to be long enough away from the other parent. Often parents with a good co-parenting relationship prefer to avoid schedules during the summer months, but this can often cause stress even with two committed and well-meaning parents. It is generally better to have a well-defined schedule and be flexible with each other rather than having no schedule at all and making arrangements on the fly. This will also be helpful if you want to book a trip in advance. Once you have your parenting time agreed, you will actually have more flexibility to make your summer plans.
Speak to the Kids It’s important that you involve your children and consider their input in making summer plans. That way you can factor in their needs and what they would like to do, which is especially important for older children. Ask them about what they would like to do this summer. Work with the other parent and take everyone’s wishes into consideration in making plans.
Coordinate Vacations You will both probably want to take the children away for a vacation at some point over the summer months. Coordinate with each other as early as possible and be co-operative. If the other parent is planning a vacation with the children, tell them to have a great time! Encourage your children to have fun with the other parent. Let them know (and show them) that you want them to have a healthy relationship with both parents. Children often feel guilty. They may be reluctant to go on a trip if they think it is going to leave the other parent alone and feeling bad.
If you’re taking the children away for a vacation, be respectful and considerate of the other parent’s feelings. Make certain they have a complete itinerary and whatever information they need to feel completely comfortable with the plan. It is just not fair to leave a parent wondering where their child is. If either of you are planning a vacation with the children, the other parent has the absolute right to have a specific itinerary and a way to contact their child. Work with the other parent to put in place the logistics to make this happen so that you both feel comfortable.
If both parents want to take the children on vacation at the same time, it can be problematic, but most of all, it is a good opportunity to really consider what is best for your children and what they might like prefer to do more. A conversation between the parents and children can be helpful in this situation. Try to look for the compromise and discuss ways you can accommodate each other’s wishes. A family therapist may be helpful in facilitating such a discussion, even if you do not have an existing relationship with that person.
When on vacation, remember that there will be times when your children miss the other parent. Respect your children’s feelings and show them that you understand that even though vacations are fun, the change in routine and missing the other parent can cause kids added stress. Allow them frequent contact with the other parent to alleviate the feelings of missing them. In the end, this will help the child to have a good time and reduce the upset.
Summer Camps and Childcare If you are both working, decide early on who is going to organize summer camps and childcare. You can each take responsibility for organizing camps and childcare during your parenting time, or you can plan out the summer camps that your children will be attending and share the responsibility for signing up and paying for the camps. It is best to agree upfront how you dividing costs and how you are choosing activities.
Be Flexible While making your summer plans, always think about giving your children good, lasting summer memories. If your heart is set on doing something with the children this summer, and the other parent doesn’t agree, take a deep breath and try to find a compromise. Work together to find an agreeable resolution. If you cooperate with each other, you will often be able to find a solution that everyone is happy with. Again, a trained family therapist may be able to help. Eventually, the two of you will hopefully figure out a plan that works for everybody.
Making Memories Whatever your summer plans, remember that what children want most is to spend time with you. This is even more important for children moving between two homes. Whatever time you spend with your children this summer, give them your full attention and make the most of it. If they are spending time with the other parent, let them enjoy it. Do not inundate them with phone calls and texts. When they return, be sure to ask them all about their time with the other parent without prying or digging for gossip. Show them that you are interested in what they are doing when you are not together. Be certain that they know you support their relationship with their other parent. Let them know that their happiness is what really matters. Make sure your children know that both of their parents love them. Take this break from the school routine to create some wonderful memories that will last them a lifetime.
||Jennifer Webbe VanLuven, MSW, LCSW
received her Master of Social Work from Saint Louis University with a concentration in family systems and law. Jennifer provides private therapy dealing with adult issues, depression, anxiety, marital and relationship issues, as well as adolescent development/ behavioral issues.
Jennifer has extensive experience in family law and court room testifying. She assists couples in a peaceful resolution, where continued communication is imperative for raising healthy children. Along with private therapy services, Jennifer provides services to families who are in the midst of transition, as a Parent Coordinator, Co-Parent Counselor, Custody Evaluator and a Divorce Consultant.