Summer is the time of year children look forward to the most. Remember being in school and counting down the days to summer? Two months of sleeping in, no homework, playing with friends, swimming, skateboarding, bike riding, visits to the cottage; campfires; slurpees, ice cream, watermelon, strawberries, toasted marshmallows and smores.
For families who are separated or divorced, a summer parenting arrangement is important for a happy holiday for all family members. Holiday schedules should be planned and arranged by the year for non-school schedules and parent travel schedules. Planning in advance can eliminate conflict, ensure a great vacation, and provide equal opportunity for parents to share precious holiday time with their children.
Summer scheduling should not become a source of conflict. We expect our children to pick and choose their battles. Teach them how by modelling that behaviour for them when planning the holiday arrangement. Remember these days are more than holidays – they are significant days of childhood and they should be positive holiday memories.
Tips for Positive Parenting Arrangements
Dr. Richard Warshak, psychologist and author of Divorce Poison, wrote an article featured in the Huffington Post on May 12, 2011, as guidance for parents dealing with the issue of summer holidays.
He provides 6 tips to “avoid the common pitfalls” that can poison a child’s holiday pleasures:
- Prepare your child: If you are the parent sending your children, don’t burden them with your own anxiety. Help your children anticipate with enthusiasm and the expectation of a pleasurable time with your ex;
- Be ready for your child: If you are the receiving parent, make sure your home is child-friendly and safe for babies and toddlers and toys and games are available that can maintain children’s interests. Arrange play dates with other children. Some parents want to occupy the child’s time exclusively to compensate for absence during the school year. This is short-sighted. You want your child to be comfortable in your home. This means spending some time playing with other children and with extended family;
- Be sensitive to your child’s feelings: If the child objects to going for the holidays or on a trip, try to figure out why. Is it normal pre-transition jitters, is the time period too long, or has the child had prior bad experiences? Both parents should facilitate phone or skype contact; sometimes it helps to prearrange times for these to take place;
- Be flexible: If both parents can agree on a different schedule, it is not necessary to follow the same schedule every summer. What works for children when they are five is not necessarily the best plan when they are fifteen. Sometimes it can help to restructure the contact into smaller blocks of time so that a young child is not away from her familiar environment for too long a period of time. Keep your focus on your child’s needs, not your “rights”;
- Don’t use the word “visit”: Visit means that a person is set apart, in some fundamental way, from others at the same location. A visitor is a guest in the home. Without thinking about it, every time we use this term to designate the time children spend with a parent, we endorse a destructive idea. We are telling children that after divorce their relationship with one parent is something less than a normal parent-child relationship. Visiting communicates the message that one parent is no longer central in their lives. He/she is no longer a parent in the same sense as he was before the divorce. Instead of your children “visiting” a parent this summer, have them spend time with the parent. Have them live with the parent;
- Allow children to take possessions that comfort them: Young children will want to take their security blanket, older children will want to take a favourite toy. Some parents do not want objects from their home to go to the ex’s home; if they keep their focus on their child’s needs, parents will be less rigid about this.
Childhood time is precious – it is not a renewable resource. Build memories, not conflict. The most important gift you can give your children during the holidays is joy and laughter, not stress. Parenting on your own is hard enough. Don’t add to this by making choices that create unnecessary conflict in the parenting relationship.
Contact MacLean Law if you need more guidance on dealing with the conflict of separation and divorce. We can help you stay child focused and create positive workable parenting arrangements. We can also help you access local community resources.