During summer months, temperatures aren’t the only things rising. For separated and divorced parents anxiety levels can easily reach an all-time high, as summer rolls around and parenting roles get switched-up. Along with negotiating vacation schedules, figuring out who is going to pay for what and fitting in special activities, parents handling more of the day-to-day care of kids find themselves facing the prospect of being childless for an extended period of time.
While seasoned switch-up veterans may secretly be counting down the days to some much-coveted alone time, first timers or those with tenuous situations may feel an overwhelming sense of dread about summer role reversal.
Of course, parents aren’t the only ones fretting. Summer can also be hugely stressful for kids as they navigate between households. Even when circumstances are amiable and cooperative, just the change from school schedule to summer routine can set kids on edge.
Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, here are some tips for making the summer switch-up successful for everyone.
Use time to recharge
Unfortunately too many parents treat kid free time more like a dirty little secret than an opportunity to recharge. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and bypass the guilt. It’s actually okay to enjoy a break from being Mom or Dad 24/7. To avoid squandering your well-deserved break, plan ahead and consider how you can constructively use your children’s time away.
To get started take 10 minutes to jot down a list of things you’d normally consider self- indulgent. You can also include things you’ve wanted to get done but haven’t gotten around to yet.
Coming up short on ideas? Ask yourself.
- When the last time you saw a movie you wanted to see?
- What would it take to plan a weekend getaway with friends?
- Is there a hobby or new experience you’ve wanted to try?
- What’s something you did in the past or “pre-kids” that you might like to do again?
Instead of keeping quiet, feel free to share your summer plans with kids. Not only does it role model good self care but it also reinforces that you feel good about them spending time with the other parent. It also send a clear message that enjoying time apart is okay.
Help kids have a successful experience
Do your best to help build kid’s excitement about their summer getaway with the other parent. Spend time talking it up, making a summer calendar or maybe brainstorming ideas about ways to make it special.
Consider things like:
- Buying a disposable camera and a small photo album so your kids can make a memory book of their summer with the other parent.
- Encouraging children to journal or keep a diary about summer events and activities.
- Creating a summer collection box so kids can collect special trinkets or items to remind them of things they did (for example, a special shell from a trip at the beach or program from a summer concert they attended)
- Packing special items from your home that children can use and enjoy while at the other household. (P.S. If your child’s something special is something major, like a gaming system or a new puppy, be a considerate co-parent and talk to your ex first before packing it up.)
Be creative about staying connected
Kids love mail. Instead of relying exclusively on modern day technology (i.e. phone calls, text, Skype or emails) consider writing your children letters or sending small care packages. Not only is it a great way connect but also it offers a fantastic opportunity to get your kids writing. The other added plus… some very special memories for both of you.
Although you may miss your kids terribly, remember to be respectful of the other parent’s time and take a balanced approach when contacting kids over the summer. Since every situation is different, it’s best to gauge frequency and time of day on your children’s need and ages. Young children may need regular phone calls while a teen feels perfectly comfortable with texting. Whenever possible use good co-parenting etiquette and consult your ex to find out what will work best with their summer schedule.
If this is your first summer…
Keep your anxiety in check
Kids are extremely sensitive to parental stress so make sure your children’s QT with the other parent isn’t tainted with worry. No matter how sad or apprehensive you feel, remember, you are the parent. Do your best to responsibly manage your feelings and not leave children wondering if you’re going to be okay while they’re gone. If necessary, get support from trusted friend or family member to help you sort things out.
It’s perfectly okay to tell your children you love them and that you will miss them. However, don’t forget to reassure them that time with the other parent is important and that you want them to enjoy it.
Whether this is your first summer or your fifth, don’t forget that absence makes the heart grow fonder. When time apart is constructive it can deepen everyone’s appreciation for the important people in their lives.
Have a fabulous summer
Looking for more practical strategies and insight on how to deal with the tough everyday issues divorce brings?
Learn more about divorce and children or check out my book Parenting Apart: How Separated and Divorced Parents Can Raise Happy and Secure Kids. Have a question or comment join me on Facebook or follow me on twitter