Spring break conjures up visions of fun in the sun and a carefree break from school. For divorced or divorcing families and for blended families, long breaks from the school year routine can create a unique set of challenges. Whether you are traveling or having a ‘stay-cation’, sorting out plans and transitions can be exhausting and fraught. While you may not have the perfect school holiday, with advance planning, your family can survive intact.
It is all in the planning… and communicating. Some issues to be considered and discussed:
- What is the schedule — who is going where, when and with whom? It is helpful if parents share details of their schedules with each other (and, if the children are old enough, with the children) to avoid misunderstandings. It can also be comforting to children to know the logistics of their time with each parent.
- How will family members communicate with each other? Is text or email sufficient for keeping in touch? Are daily phone calls necessary or appropriate? Will communication create or diminish stress for the children?
- How will transitions between parents be handled? How will the children be prepared for ‘re-entry’ to school? Will there be adequate time to adjust to time changes? Is the travel schedule age-appropriate? Does the child need medications administered? What is the ‘hand off’ plan? Consider the child’s temperament and ability to transition among people, places, and activities and build in time or mechanisms to help keep transitions as smooth as possible.
- Is there a backup plan in case things are not going well? As much as you may desire to have family members spend time together, some escape time or a ‘plan B’ can save everyone from a disaster.
- For school-aged children, is there time in the schedule for completing school work, college applications, SAT preparation, etc.? Technology can be your friend with tools such as shared electronic calendars, Evernote, and Sugarsync file managers. Make sure your child brings all electronic and print materials for assignments that are due upon your return.
The past is not always history. Vacation time can trigger powerful feelings—difficult memories of unhappy times, anger, disappointment or wishful thinking to get back their old family. Particularly where one parent has a new partner while the other is single, or financial circumstances of the parents are very different, feelings of grief, jealousy and loneliness may surface. All of these feelings are authentic and real and need to be acknowledged as part of the process of getting to the new normal for your family.
Help your children navigate dealing with separate households and other people (i.e., new partners and their children). Give your children permission to have fun even if you are not there. Give yourself permission to have fun or to miss them if they are not with you. History is the past and your new present is what matters.
Vacation time can have unique challenges. Not being used to the rhythms and behaviors of a child can feel unsettling — a child’s sleep patterns, independence level, preferred activities and routines may be quite different than the last time the parent had a block of time with the child. Parents who do not do daily homework may not be prepared for children’s current academic strengths and weaknesses. To the extent that you can prepare the noncustodial parent for these situations, it will help make the time with the children less fraught.
Familiarity does not always breed contempt. Children, and adults too, find great comfort in routines. Routines help us organize our time and define our relationships. Especially for young children, consistent mealtimes, bedtimes, tasks and playtimes reduce anxiety and ease transitions. Routines provide a structure for the family that is comforting in its inherent predictability. When parents live in different homes, the preservation of routines can help children move between homes with less conflict and upheaval.
While the family schedule is often suspended during vacation period, there are nevertheless elements of routine worth preserving such as parameters about screen time and social media, expectations for doing chores, and routines relating to checking in with both parents on a regular basis.
Oh, the places you will go. Even under the best of circumstances, family travel is difficult. Think through the logistics and make sure that the travel arrangements actually make sense for everyone.
How will the step siblings do in one car? Is there downtime for teenagers to be at home and see their friends? To the extent possible, let the children, and particularly teenagers, weigh in on the travel plans. To the extent that you can prepare the noncustodial parent for these situations, it will help make the time with the children less fraught.
For most families, vacation times are when rules are relaxed. It is worth keeping in mind that upon return, it may be difficult for children to get back on schedule and so focus on which routines should be kept to by both sets of parents and which routines can be more flexible.
The Part Too Team – Lisa Freudenberger, Ph.D. CAC (clinical psychologist) , Diane Rosen, JD MBA (lawyer and mediator) and Rebecca Mannis, Ed.M. Ph.D. (learning specialist)
Using the MET technique, Part Too helps families transition through the divorce process in a healthy and integrative way. With a focus on Management of financial resources, Education and Therapeutic priorities, this unique approach keeps individuals intact emotionally, physically and financially during and after the divorce process.
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The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.