Summer’s Here and Your Children are There
Each summer, divorced parents face the challenge of managing extended summer visitations for their children. This can be a difficult time, especially if the divorce was less than amicable. However, children must feel a sense of security and confidence from both sides if they are to truly benefit from their time with the non-custodial parent.
The most important point for divorced parents is to realize that no matter how they feel about their ex-spouse this is the other parent. Children are often stuck in the middle of all the animosity and heartbreak of divorce. This feeling can tear at their sense of security and create feelings of divided loyalties. It is vital that parents make a concerted effort to put their best foot forward in preparation and maintenance of summer visitation schedules. Check your ego, heartbreak and frustrations at the door, and focus on the children, what is best for them and how to help them have a wonderful visit with their other parent.
According to Eliska Counce M.Ed., NCC, LPC-S, co-parents’ first priority must be their children’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being and safety. If parents remember little else, always keep in mind your children love and miss the other parent deeply. Interference in that relationship will, in all likelihood, backfire later.
How the custodial parent reacts to the impending separation from their children greatly affects everyone involved. If mom is worried that her children are going away for a month, the kids will notice, even if nothing is said aloud. This makes it ever so important to add a sense of calm to the environment before the children’s departure. Be careful not to build their expectations too high. Allow them to express their excitement and don’t take it personally when the kids seem more interested in going to see their other parent than anything else. Kids love mom and dad and need both parents to be at their best before, during and after extended visitations. Try to understand the situation from the children’s perspectives and help them focus on connecting and living with the other parent for a while.
Keep in mind, as a custodial parent you may have to let go of a few issues. Even in united families parents have different styles. Do what you can to work with your ex-spouse to create as much consistency as possible in terms of discipline, routine, and house rules. Counce adds, “Consistency and routine are very important in comforting children. Whether they are toddlers or teens, children thrive with scheduling. Talk with your co-parent about important areas to build consistency.”
Calmly work with the ex-spouse to set up a schedule for calls. Making regular contact with your children during summer visitation lets them know they are gone but not forgotten. Family Law Attorney, Frank Shor, suggests parents avoid saying, “I miss you,” and instead use phrases such as, “I’m thinking of you” and “I love you.” Since children feel a deep sense of loyalty and concern for their parents, hearing “I miss you” may give children reason to worry about the parent.
When concerns arise about the goings-on at the other house, do your best to offer your child well-meaning, helpful listening ears rather than answers. Children need to have their own relationship with the other parent. If you have an amicable relationship with your former partner, see if the two of you can find a solution that works for the child.
Your extended visitation with the kids will be different from the weekend visits during the school year, because the reality of your life becomes more apparent to your children. Be realistic and understanding towards your children and their perceptions of the “fun parent” and the “busy parent.” They may expect constant fun and expensive activities, but what they really need is you, consistency and normalcy.
Be open to talking to your former spouse about routines, food preferences, allergies and daily communications with the children. Your children are used to the inner-workings of their regular residence and diversion from that requires adjustment. Find ways to incorporate routines from both homes into your own so your children can focus on spending time with you rather than adjusting to the different environment. Be open to allowing daily communications between your children and ex-spouse. Set a time that best suits your plans and then make sure to follow through on it. If you and your ex-spouse have a difficult relationship, let your children answer the phone at those times. Then, offer the child privacy to freely speak with their other parent.
Allow the other parent to have visits with the children if possible. Schedule these visits ahead of time so the children won’t feel so far removed from the other parent. If communication with your ex-spouse is difficult, refer to your court-ordered visitation arrangements. Most include provisions for visits with the custodial parent during extended visitation.
In the vast majority of divorced families, each parent has something positive to offer their children. And while there may be hurt feelings between the adults, the children are most vulnerable. If you feel unable to manage your time with or without your children, seek support from objective sources who can offer sound advice to help you show love and strength to your kids. There are many resources available for divorced parents locally and online. Utilize these resources and, when in doubt, close your mouth and just listen to your children.
Written by Lucy Parker Watkins