Whether you have a parenting plan in place throughout the year, or a custody agreement mandated by the family court, the arrival of summer, and the prolonged period of school vacation that accompanies that change of season means that a new arrangement may be in the best interests of the children as well as former spouses. Kids out of school mean more time needed for supervision, more activities to be planned, and more stress in an already stressful family dynamic. What is a parent to do when the summer comes, and it’s time to decide plans for what to do with the kids?
Ideally, while you are first going through the divorce process, you and your ex should be hammering out a plan to cover the kids’ custody for extended vacations – including those for summer and the weeks here and there throughout the year when school is out. At THAT time, both parties should create the parenting plan that will include specific guidelines for family vacations – including length of visitation, geographic limitations, and minimum advance notice of any trips to be taken. A good idea is to have two identical calendars for each spouse to take home after that first planning meeting, to be added to by both at any subsequent meetings when discussing dates in the future, that way both parents are equally apprised of upcoming plans. Paper calendars are more permanent and allow kids to see that parents are on the same page when going from one house and another. Communication is always essential for successful co-parenting, and beginning on the right foot can make the transition easier for everyone involved.
Regardless of what your custody agreement during the year is, this huge amount of time when kids are out of school can be tricky for anyone that has a job that requires a nine to five regular work-week. It may be that the best thing for the kids is summer school or camp because it can lead to their further enrichment. Studies have shown that kids that fill the summer month between school years with enrichment opportunities like reading programs, scholastic clubs, or learning camps are far more likely to retain what they have learned and excel into the new year. Camp, in particular, can have a favorable impact on a child’s social development, and if that camp is specialized based on a particular pastime (for instance horseback riding camp, band camp, or computer programming camp) the child in question may be provided with an advance in a field of interest that could lead to a career. Since many summer camps offer day and sleepaway options, children may even be able to keep to the original physical custody agreement without interruption.
What if neither parent is able to take the time off or can afford to pay for a sitter, daycare, or camp to mind the children for almost three months? The financial strain of suddenly having to care for school-age children, not in school can be overwhelming even if all you really want to do is spend more time with your kids. Particularly, when the divorce and family restructure is fresh, it can be important for your children not to feel isolated from either parent. If either set of grandparents is located near you, and they are in good health, consider utilizing them for childcare – if not full-time, then certainly as a free supplement towards pricey daycare. Grandparents are usually a loving, responsible alternative to introducing your kids to yet ANOTHER new variable. They can surround the grandkids with family, tradition, and stability which can be so important to kids in these troubled times.
Another variable to consider is the age of your children. A family vacation is always an opportunity for family bonding and memory-making. The littlest littles benefit from spending as much time with each parent as possible, with a 50/50 schedule being the goal. Older kids will tell you to your face that they would rather be with their friends, but still need quality time with mom and dad despite their protests to the contrary. Whether these ideal arrangements are possible, considering time and finances, the quality of the time spent with each parent is the key. Little kids want to DO things with you, even if it’s just stirring a pot over a stove or painting a picture in front of cartoons, as long as it’s together. The older kids can actually help with the creation of those family plans, taking into consideration their own interests so that are participating with YOU, as opposed to sulking because they miss their friends.
Nobody is saying that making these arrangements is always easy. Putting aside acrimonious feelings towards a former spouse is an emotional challenge, but one best overcome by keeping those communication lines open and certain flexibility while maintaining a sense of civility for the sake of nurturing healthy, happy little humans.
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