For many families, summer is the time to kick back and relax. If you're a parent, summertime usually is when you take a break from the shuffling around the school year brings. During summer, you have a more open-ended schedule to plan outdoor activities, day trips and a vacation (with or without your kids!). You may also arrange for your children to attend summer camp for part of the time as well.
For divorced parents, the deviation from the children's usual schedule, typically anchored by the school routine, can be the source of a lot of stress as they try to negotiate their way through it — particularly if tensions are already high between them. That can make the summer anything but relaxing for a family, including and especially the kids.
As a divorce and family lawyer, I see this all the time. I went through it myself, as my ex and I worked on figuring out summer schedules for our four children. We weren't always living in the same state either. But by using the six tips I outline below, we were able to plan out our children's summers — and ours — with relative ease.
Make plans with your co-parent well in advance.
Making summer plans doesn't have to be a summer activity in and of itself. It's best if it isn't and should take place before summer, if possible. Last-minute deviations to a well-considered parenting schedule that moms, dads and kids depend on usually don't go over well.
By discussing the children's summer plans with your co-parent early, you give yourself and your kids the best chance to have a summer you'll all look forward to. Summer activities and vacation spots fill up fast, and you don't want to miss out or have your co-parent turn around and tell you "no" to the only week you could make your bookings.
Ironing out summer schedules beforehand allows you and your co-parent to plan the summer months as you each envision them. That can include planning some much-needed kid-free time as well. Now there's an incentive, right?
If you're late to the game this summer, don't sweat it. It's never too early to start thinking about next summer. As for the coming months, do your best to coordinate with your ex beginning right now. Your success in doing so will likely depend on my next point.
Things are inevitably going to come up, necessitating a change of plans. One of the kids could break their arm, a storm hits during vacation week that causes a closure or cancelation, or a relative falls ill. If something like this happens, be as flexible as you can with your co-parent.
There's no sense in fighting over what you can't control, so if you're in a position to accommodate a change of plans, do so. Your goal is to keep the family machine running smoothly, even if and when there's a hiccup.
Agree to who will make child-care arrangements.
With kids off from school, summertime often means having to make additional child-care arrangements. If you work outside the home or are, for example, scheduled to have your children for the second week in August but have to work for part of it, agree in advance who will be responsible for securing child care during specific times.
When it comes to child care, leave nothing up to chance. You can easily accomplish this by having an open discussion with your co-parent about who's responsible for the children on what days and times, whether either of you needs to arrange child care, and who will pay for it. Again, planning in advance can help to that end.
These are not discussions you want to have as you're walking out the door to work or when your co-parent is standing at your front door with your children, or as your children's babysitter tells you that your co-parent said you're paying them this week. Child care is one area that you need to have nailed down because it underlies children's sense of security as well as their safety.
Be clear about your requests.
With any request that you make to your co-parent regarding summer plans (or anything else for that matter), do it in writing, preferably by email. Text messages tend to get missed or buried, not to mention it's easier to shoot them off in the heat of the moment. Also, text messages are often less detailed, making them common sources for confusion.
When discussing potential summer plans, approach your co-parent via email or memorialize any spoken conversations you've had in an email. Be clear and specific with your requests. That way, you have an electronic trail of your correspondence.
Don't forget to get your co-parent to agree to whatever plans you've discussed in writing as well. Without this last part, your emails won't be worth much if you need to refer to them at a later date.
Keep the kids at the center of decision-making.
As co-parents, your primary goal should be to keep your kids at the center of your decision-making. That means you need to consider the days and times of your summer plans and whether they work well with your children's schedules.
For example, you and your co-parent may not want each of your respective summer vacations with the kids to happen without a break in between because that could potentially be exhausting for them, especially if they're young. You also may not want to vacation in the same spot unless you agree to do that. If you don't get along with your co-parent, I don't know what could be much worse than finding out they rented the lake house next to yours.
Summertime is great for getting back to basics after a busy school year and reconnecting with family. With so many opportunities for exploring and teaching your children in a non-classroom environment, you won't want to miss out simply because you can't come to an agreement with your co-parent about how to allocate parenting time.
By following the tips I've outlined above, you should have no problem following this last and, perhaps, most important tip: Have fun. You deserve to have a restful and enjoyable summer vacation, and so do your children.