Co-parenting over Summer: 10 Tips for a Drama Free Vacay
Summer is a challenging time for all parents, but especially for those who are no longer together. During the school year, the kids are on a pretty set schedule and co-parents generally know what their responsibilities are from month to month. Then summer rolls around and throws a wrench into visitation, childcare, and transportation arrangements. Add the drama of your ex-relationship to the mix, and your family’s summer fun is at serious risk.
So what can co-parents do to plan a summer that works for everyone?
1. Create a co-parenting plan
Depending on your situation, communication between you and your co-parent might not be optimal. If you can stand being in the same room together (or tolerate phone calls), let your ex know you want to discuss summer plans that are in the best interest of your child. Plan ahead and tell them about trips, camps, or other activities you have in mind. Determine who will make arrangements for childcare and activities and discuss how payments will be split up. Putting summer plans in writing will help you both stay on the same page and avoid misunderstandings.
2. Share your priorities
Ask your ex what’s most important to them this summer. Is it bringing your child to cousin Frank’s wedding on a weekend that isn’t normally theirs? Is it taking your child to see a concert of their favorite band? Even if you secretly couldn’t care less about what your ex wants, being flexible and acknowledging what’s important to them will make it a lot more likely that they will do the same for you.
3. Meet halfway
Co-parents often bump heads about what summer activities their child should be enrolled in. One parent might think they are old enough to be home alone and that camps are a waste of money. The other might dread the thought of their little pookie-pie unsupervised without constant stimulation and structured snack-time. Whichever side you’re on, be open to compromise. Don’t feel like forking out half the cost for that exclusive STEM camp? Compile research to share with your ex on some smaller camps that might provide a more reasonable option.
4. Avoid competition
If you find yourself trying to one-up your ex with cooler plans for the ultimate vacay, remind yourself that competing with your co-parent will only make your child feel guilty. Splitting the summer between two households can be tough for a child or teen, so the most important thing is that they get quality one-on-one time with each parent. It doesn’t matter if it’s be on a beach in Maui or at a backyard barbecue; bonding with each parent is most important.
5. Get your child’s input
As you work out summer arrangements with your co-parent, make sure you don’t overlook what your child actually wants. Parents feel a lot of pressure to make summer amazing for their kids, but maybe all your child really wants to do is work on their guitar skills and hang out with friends. Focusing plans around your child’s priorities will make them feel important and will also reduce the power struggle between co-parents.
6. Don’t smother from afar
If your child is going away with your ex for an extended time, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to want to check in with them periodically – just don’t overdo it. Discuss set times with your ex that you will call and check in with your child, but limit it to 2 or 3 times a week. That way, your child is less likely to resent your contact and you won’t appear to be encroaching on the other parent’s quality time.
7. Make the most of your “me-time”
While you will miss your child and may even worry about them when they are with the other parent, remember that there is a silver lining in having a split summer: you get lots more free time! Make the most of your me-time by planning several kid-free activities to occupy your time and look forward to.
8. Support the other relationship
Co-parents come with a wide variety of background stories. Some just grew apart but still care and respect for each other. Others may have been lied to or cheated on and can’t stand the thought of that no-good two timer. Whatever your story is, remind yourself that it’s in your child’s best interest to have a positive relationship with both parents. Show support for them making memories with their other parent and ask them all about their time with them.
9. Don’t hex your ex
No matter how reasonable or considerate you are, sometimes the other parent just won’t want to compromise. As frustrating as this may be, don’t badmouth your ex to your child, even if they talk badly about you. Comments like, “You couldn’t go to Disneyworld because your dad refused to pay his half,” will alienate the other parent and put the weight of your drama on your child’s shoulders. When you’re feeling angry or upset, call a friend or other trusted adult to vent to.
10. Visit a specialist
Every family situation is different and sometimes parents need a little extra help in managing the challenges that co-parenting can bring. If co-parenting or visitation challenges are becoming overwhelming, Variations can help.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. Dr. Shinn works with parents and children to help them discover ways to improve communication, overcome obstacles, and make decisions that benefit the best interest of the family.
Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout each stage of life including life after divorce and managing the stress and challenges of co-parenting.
Cynthia Johnson, LMFT, is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. She has years of experience in supporting families and strengthening relationships between co-parents, married couples, teens, and children.
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Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.
Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams).
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