As the end of the school term draws near many parents start feeling anxious about transitioning their children into a summer schedule. Historically this time of year is when many children spend longer periods of time away from one or both parents due to vacations and/or scheduled extended periods of time with one parent or the other.
While there have been some shifts towards shared parenting, many families still work around a structure where one parent functions as the primary household and the other parent spends the majority of their time with children on weekends, holidays and during the summer months.
For many parents it can be incredibly difficult to think about not seeing children for weeks at a time. However, it is important to remember that summer arrangements can produce a considerable amount of stress for children as well, especially if they have not been prepared for what is going to happen.
Regardless of which role you are in, primary household or not, minimize the transitional stress your children experience by thinking about how you will manage your time together this summer. Stay focused on your children’s needs.
Tips for the successful summer
• Talk to the other parent
When possible, set aside time to discuss plans with the other parent beforehand. In some situations, parents may have different opinions about how time is spent in which case do what you can to make the best of this less than ideal situation. If the other parent is not willing to be flexible, take the higher road and stay focused on what is best for your children by making a conscious effort not to retaliate.
• Plan ahead.
Think through how you would like to spend time with your children and what you can do to prepare them for summer events or vacations. Consider making a summer calendar in advance to show them how time will be spent between households.
• Talk to your children.
Instead of just informing children about the summer plans, consider talking with them about how they would like to spend time with you this summer. Listen to their ideas, discuss what is possible and then do your best to incorporate some of their suggestions.
Remember if you commit to doing something (e.g. camping, visiting family or taking a trip) make sure you follow through. Children need to be able to count on your word.
• Don’t over do it.
Sometimes parents may feel guilty about not having enough time with their children. When this happens they may fall into the trap of trying to pack every moment of their time together with fun filled, exciting activities. This is usually overwhelming to children and will wear them out quickly, leaving you with very disgruntled stressed out kids.
Instead, build in quality time with children that involves low maintenance activities such as taking evening walks, going to the park, reading a book together or playing a family game. What kids most crave is having one on one time with parents.
• Support your children’s time with the other parent.
Convey a positive attitude about your child spending time with the other parent. If you are the primary parent, instead of referring to time with the other parent as a “visit” talk with children about their time in the other home or special time with Mom or Dad.
Also when traveling, provide the other parent with contact information and details regarding your trip with the children. Both parents have a right to know where the children are.
• Help children maintain consistent contact with the other parent.
Some children especially younger ones may struggle with missing the parent they are not with during longer periods of time. Promote children maintaining consistent contact with the other parent suggesting or facilitating a telephone call to check in, an email to tell about their day or perhaps setting up a virtual visit via webcam when there is a considerable amount of distance between the two homes.
• Make time to recharge.
When your children are with the other parent over the summer, use your time constructively. Practice extreme self-care and allow yourself time to get refreshed. Visit friends, take a class, read a book, see a movie, take a trip or allow yourself the pleasure of being completely lazy one day.
What obstacles will you face this summer and what can you do to avoid them?