Summer is just around the corner. Children are already jumping for joy knowing that school’s out for the summer! Parents may feel their anxiety level rise when they ask themselves: How will we entertain the kids without school in session? This question can be especially challenging for separated and divorced parents. We hope these ideas help make this summertime as smooth as fro-yo for parents and children alike.
#1 — Start Planning from The Beginning
When parents take the time during the divorce process to thoughtfully consider a summer game-plan from the beginning, this can be enormously helpful once summer rolls around. During divorce mediation, these issues can be covered and agreed upon in advance, so that parents have a road-map to navigate summer break.
Unfortunately, most parents do not consider modifications to their “summer schedule” as compared to their “regular parenting time schedule” during the divorce process. Many parents have high conflict divorces in litigation where these issues are never raised because fighting on other issues monopolizes their time and resources. Even many mediators in Arizona fail to raise this important issue.
Other considerations can also be game-changers. Could separated parents consider a specific summer time vacation clause? Could parents even consider coordinating all summer camp and activity timing, as well as sharing of expenses?
#2 — Consider a Regular School Year Schedule vs. Summer Schedule
When divorcing parents initially develop a parenting plan, most built time sharing around the regular school year—with the regular school hours in mind. Often, a Judge will also only order specifics around a general schedule without details around summer. However, working parents understand that planning summer camps and activities for children is an absolute must to ensure kids are safe and well cared for—and enjoying their summer break from school.
It is a major advantage when parents can identify summer camps that mirror the school year schedule. This allows a seamless transition for parents—no need to modify the summer parenting time schedule. However, sometimes this is not possible.
For example, school may typically end at 3PM, with after-school care extending until about 5PM, but summer camp may end at 2PM without an option to extend after-care. Planning early is key. Even during the divorce process, parents can solve these problems by researching details of the summer camp options and working together to agree upon how to fill in the gaps.
In addition to start and stop time gaps of summer activities, there may be longer gaps in between summer camp periods. Even parents who maximize summer camp enrollment often learn that a gap of 1-2 weeks or more may exist. The sooner parents understand the problems that need to be solved, the better! Surely, when left to the last minute, conflict will escalate when it could have been prevented. During the longer gap periods, some parents will consider taking their own vacation with the children.
Here are a few other tips when planning a summer parenting time schedule that can guide you well:
Coordinate summer camps together. When you each have input, and each agree on the camps your kids attend, this creates mutual ownership over the decisions. Coordinate payment of these camps and activities together as well. If your parenting plan doesn’t address this, you could agree to divide the costs in proportion to your total income as a fair way to resolve sharing costs.
Check for interference. Make sure that the camps or activities don’t interfere with the other parent’s parenting time, if for some reason you alone determine the summer activities schedule.
Get input from your kids! Consider how your children might prefer their summer schedule—especially when they are older. Of course, when getting their opinions make sure they understand that in the end, Mom and Dad will make the final decisions.
Home alone? Be wary of having your kids stay home alone all summer while you are at work. Especially when your children are a range of different ages, be careful placing responsibility on an older child to babysit the younger ones. It can be a lot of pressure to place on a teenager.
#3 — Include a “Summer Vacation” Clause
As divorce mediators in Arizona, we work to help you plan for the summer, including those details that can help you limit conflict in the future. Most parents have a “general vacation time clause” that covers how each parent may request vacation time during each year.
For example, “Each parent has up to 14 days each year to travel with the children on vacation outside the State of Arizona so long as that parents gives the other no less than 60 days notice.”
Thoughtful parents can also include a specific “summer vacation time clause” for travel taking place during the summer. This has advantages. When parents use a slightly different approach, specifically regarding the “notice” requirement, scheduling disasters can be avoided and healthier co-parenting can be fostered.
For example, parents can agree that “each parent will have up to 10 days of vacation specifically during the summer break, and parents shall confer each year on April 1 to discuss and confirm each parent’s vacation schedule.”
When parents agree to discuss each other’s summer vacation plans at a specific time, the “race” to make plans in eliminated. We see unnecessary conflict ignite when parents each schedule the same vacation dates but one “wins” because they give the other notice of their plans first.
Planning together once per year before airline tickets and hotel reservation are booked can significantly reduce stress and conflict. This yearly meeting could happen at a coffee shop, by phone, or even email. Some parents will even schedule a mediation meeting to discuss and agree on specifics with the help of a mediator.
Always do your best to be flexible and remember: this is about making positive memories for your children. Let them know that you want them to have a wonderful time on vacation with the other parent and support the other’s vacation time 100%.
#4 — Keep Conflict Low
Easier said than done—we know!
Even though your co-parenting relationship may have a rocky past, summertime may be an opportunity to get some positive momentum going. Small gestures and a little consideration can go a long way in the world of rebuilding a healthy co-parenting relationship.
Some tips on keeping conflict low:
Share your vacation plan details. Even if the other parent hasn’t requested it, proactively share your hotel and transportation details with your former spouse to keep them informed. Although you may not need to share every detail of your vacation, sharing important information and plans may be appreciated and can be very beneficial to your children.
For example, letting the other parent know that you are planning to take the kids scuba diving can accomplish a few things. If the kids say something about it to you before they go, or after they come back, you can reply, “I know, your Dad/Mom told me about that—I’m so excited for you!” Why is this healthy co-parenting? It both gives kids permission to have positive relationship with the other parent, supports the relationship the kids have with the other parent, and gives kids relief that it’s “okay” that they enjoyed themselves.
Avoid Outdoing One Another. One parent may take the children to Disneyland for a long weekend. This does not mean that the other parent must plan a trip to Universal Studios a week later to keep up. No doubt, it is hard when you know the other parent is having a blast with the kids and you are not part of the fun—especially if the trip is a first experience for the kids. But in the process of creating a war-of-the-cooler-vacation, you will likely exhaust yourself trying to outdo your former spouse, and exhaust your children when they feel like they are caught in the middle. Instead, try making the following tip a reality!
Facilitate Communication Between the Children and The Other Parent During Your Own Vacation. Offer to connect the other parent with the kids during your own vacation via text, phone call, FaceTime or Skype. Now this is healthy co-parenting!
The other parent will feel great because they get to be in on the vacation by hearing about it in real-time. The parent on the vacation feels good knowing that the kids are happy to connect with the other parent and that the other parent is excited for them. The kids feel good too by seeing their parents put them first by their willingness to cooperate and make time for the other. Although it may seem inconvenient at the time, resist the notion that it is an invasion of “your” parenting time. You will appreciate it when the shoe is on the other foot!
#5 — Enjoy Some Alone Time
Feelings of anxiety are normal when your children are away for extended periods of time during the summer. But still, take advantage of the time—do something for you! Plan a spa weekend to recharge your batteries. Golf with your friends that you rarely get to see. Binge-watch those Netflix shows you have been dying to see for months. You have permission to enjoy the time on your own. Rest and relax.
We hope these summertime tips help make summer break in Arizona a bit cooler for divorced parents and children. When in doubt, of course, work it out.