Vacations and divorce: Summertime is here, and with it comes unique hurdles and real opportunities for families of divorce. Parents who are early on in the divorce process need to think carefully about their plans and tailor them for their children. What we want is fun for all.
The first summer after a separation is challenging for all involved–especially the children. As the season opens, and school schedules change, kids are often left with more downtime to spend with their respective parents. Vacations pose an additional need for adjustments for you, your estranged spouse, and your children. In keeping with the mantra of The Intelligent Divorce: your children must always come first. Make sure that they don’t get stuck, yet again, right in the middle of their parent’s issues.
Let’s start with the positive: Vacation is meant to be a time for bonding and fun. For the non-custodial parent, it is a time to strengthen the parent-child bond, to connect in a deep way, and to make new and wonderful memories. For the custodial parent, vacation is a time when you don’t have to check homework and you can be more relaxed and flexible on bedtime. It gives you a chance to enjoy your kids with less worry and fuss.
Timing: When planning a vacation, it is important to consider how much time has passed since the divorce. If recent, then a vacation–even just a week or two–is a long time for kids to be away from their other parent. Be prepared to manage your children’s homesickness and/or separation anxiety, especially if you’re the non-custodial parent. Decide in advance when and how often your children can touch base with their mom or dad. If you are the parent of youngsters, you may need to be extra sensitive. A two-week vacation may be too much for your six-year-old, if up until this point she has not been away from her mother for more than three days. Do not feel rejected; your children are moving through the stages of grief at their own speed.
Location: We are creatures of habit, and as such like to go back certain places again and again. Forewarned is forearmed: traveling to the old family vacation spot will surely bring up happy memories for your kids when the family was intact, which will likely follow with sad thoughts about the divorce. I advise you start fresh with an unvisited place, one where new memories can be made, and old, fond memories needn’t risk being tainted.
Preparation: There are several things you can do to make the family vacation more stress-free, most of which center around the important idea of effective communication with your ex. Make it a point to arrange your children’s schedule together with your ex, in order to avoid unpleasant surprises and fights over your kids’ time. Co-planning will lessen the awkward and unnecessary issue of one parent inadvertently (or otherwise) scheduling a vacation that interferes with a child’s routine. This includes the end or beginning of the school year, other summer activities, or an important time for the ex-spouses, like Mom’s birthday or Father’s Day. Above all else, remember: vacation is not a competition with your ex to see who is the ‘better’ parent. It’s a good idea to plan fun activities with your children, but don’t over-do it. Your vacation should be a chance for you and your kids to enjoy quality time together.
Introducing your “new friend”: Have you ever seen The Parent Trap (or any number of other movies) where the divorced parent brings a new girlfriend or boyfriend on vacation, against the wishes of his or her kids? In the movies, it is a plot device introduced to wreak havoc and chaos–which it almost certainly will in real life, too. Avoid making this common mistake by resisting the temptation to bring along your new flame. Especially after a recent divorce, your kids will not be ready. They may well resent the fact that this ‘new person’ is coming on the family vacation. Don’t put them in a position where they may feel disloyal to their other parent, or where they feel forced into the acceptance of the finality of their parent’s divorce before they are organically ready. You need to wait until some time has passed. I recommend one calendar year at minimum.
We know the summer months and family vacations can be stressful times, but they can also be fun times, the backdrop for new memories and new family traditions.