The onset of summer and the end of the school year can often prompt new challenges for co-parenting families. In most Parenting Plans and Court Orders, the specified parenting time that each parent has changes during the summer when the children aren’t in school. Despite the relationship you may have with the other co-parent, we’ve outlined some ways that you can ensure a fun and stress-free summer vacation for your child.
1) Support the Parenting Plan
Stay legally on-point if there is a Court Order or Parenting Plan in place that dictates your parenting time during the summer. Even if you want to make your ex happy by trying to remain flexible in order to accommodate the needs of your children’s other parent, remember that you are legally required to adhere to the Parenting Plan or Court Order that is in place. Although your willingness to be flexible with your ex with custody exchanges is well-intentioned, you are putting yourself and your parenting rights in jeopardy when you don’t follow the Court’s Orders or the Parenting Plan in place. Even if you disagree with what is specified in your Parenting Plan for your children’s summer break, take a moment to look back over what it specifically states regarding the summer to make sure that you’re not putting yourself at risk legally. Information is power. -Once you know exactly when you have parenting time with your kiddos during their summer vacation, you can begin planning some fun activities to do together!
2) Clearly Communicate
Clear communication is the key to any relationship – even a co-parenting relationship! You may not have the best relationship with your children’s other parent, but being able clearly communicate details pertaining to your children’s summer co-parenting schedule is critical. For many co-parenting families, summer vacation and school breaks can pose a new challenge since parenting time changes from the normal schedule that is in place during the school year. In many cases, the Parenting Plan isn’t as specific on details related to summer parenting time than it is during the school year. If that’s the case for you, it is even more crucial to have proper communication with your ex. When communicating with the other co-parent, make sure to adhere to the preferred method of contact that the Court Order or Parenting Plan specifies. In high-conflict co-parenting situations, the court may specifically advise email communication only. If that’s the case, keep your emails short and on-point. If your high-conflict ex sends threatening, rude or harassing email messages or texts – never respond in kind. Instead, completely ignore their rude remarks by not referencing them at all when responding back to their messages and only focus your messages on solidifying parenting time specifics such as place, date and time of custody exchanges, etc. Since emails and text messages can always be used against you in court, so keep your email communication polite and to-the-point. Utilize the preferred communication method as it’s intended – a channel to help ease co-parenting stress by being able to clearly communicate with your children’s other parent on all matters pertaining the day-to-day aspects (custody exchanges, dates, times, etc) of the summer Parenting Plan.
3) Let Your Kids Know What’s Up
The new summer co-parenting schedule is a new adjustment for your kids as well. A change to the typical co-parenting schedule can be a source of anxiety and stress for young children because they don’t know what to expect in terms of their time with each parent. Co-parenting schedules and custody exchange days are hard enough for adults to remember – and are almost impossible for a young child to make sense of. Switching parenting time between parents is a big deal to your child, and quite frankly they want to know when they will be whisked off to their other parent! One of the ways that I communicated to my young son about his new summer parenting schedule was to get him his very own co-parenting calendar and plot the new schedule all out on his calendar for him to visually see and understand. He was too young to read so I couldn’t just write “Dad Day” and “Mom Day” on a calendar, as it wouldn’t help him understand the new summer schedule. Instead, his “My Two Homes” Co-Parenting Calendar had to have pictures to represent which parent he would be with, when transfer days occurred, etc. By visually seeing what was coming up for him in his summer, he felt much more confident and secure in his new routine because he knew exactly what to expect – which was very empowering for him. Once your child can better understand their new summer routine, they will feel a sense of security and safety knowing that they know what will be happening in their day. The summer break transition is an adjustment for everyone, so make sure that you communicate with your kiddos to make sure they can relax and enjoy their beloved summer break from school!
4) Share In Your Child’s Joy
Most children look forward to the summer all year. Especially for school-aged children, the onset of summer break is a very exciting and much anticipated time for them. From outdoor swimming to vacations to far-off destinations, children love the summer. Unfortunately for many parents who co-parent, summer break can be a time of stress and anxiety as the difficulties of shared parenting may be at all time high. Depending on the nature of the relationships that each co-parent has with the other, jealousy and anger can arise when the summer Parenting Plan is in effect. For working parents who can’t take time off of work or for parents who can’t afford vacations or trips for their children, the summer may be a time wracked with guilt. In those situations, it is often very difficult for them to be happy about trips or excursions that the other co-parent is able to do with the children. Jealousy, insecurities, money issues, and ghosts from the past can sometime prevent a parent from being able to fully celebrate with their child about their vacation time with the other parent. As hard as it is, try to remember how exciting and fun summers were to you when you were a kid. Many of the summer memories you may recall from your childhood were actually not extravagant, expensive trips to places far away. Instead, you may recall how fun it was to go to the pool and eat a Laffy Taffy in the hot sun while your swimsuit dried or how exhillerrating it was when your parents let you keep playing outside past your bedtime on a warm summer night. Remember that you can create unique, fun summer moments with your children even without a huge budget or time off of work. Above all, allow your kids to feel comfortable enough to tell you about how much fun they had with their other parent by being happy and receptive to hear all about it. It’s completely okay and understandable if you have to fake your joy when hearing about the fun time they had with their other parent. – Just make sure to do everything in your power to revel in their joy and let it be safe in your home to talk about their love for their other parent. After all, one of the greatest gifts you can give your child is the ability for them to love their other parent. Allowing them to be able to safely express how they feel about their other parent is a lovely way that you can support them on their co-parenting journey. Make sure your kids know that you are excited for them and that you will not get jealous, angry, or sad in front of them if they bring up how much fun they’ve been having on summer vacation when with their other parent. Let them be a kid. Let them just focus on magical summer moments and be there to support them in their joy.
5) Get Yours!
Although the summer can prompt additional co-parenting stress, remember that it’s your summer too and you should be able to enjoy it! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping and summer is in the air! When co-parenting issues or summer break stress begins to creep up, remember to breathe, relax, and take some time to enjoy your favorite part of the summer season. It can be lonely when your children are away from you while visiting their other parent, but utilize your time alone to get caught up at work, visit friends, and heck – borrow their pool floatie and head to the pool! After all, this is your summer too! Taking time for yourself to enjoy some of your favorite summer pleasures is encouraged – and will even benefit your child when they come back home to an even more rejuvenated and happy you!
Summer can be a lovely time for you and your kiddos. Regardless of the co-parenting relationship you have with your ex, you and your ‘littles’ can still have a loving and memorable summer break!