While holidays offer parents an opportunity for loads of quality time with their children, it also often involves issues such as fitting a vacation around the other parent's schedule, giving up some time for the other's sake, switching parenting roles while still having the usual responsibilities and not seeing your kids for a prolonged period of time.
Parents may also have different parenting styles and comfort levels around vacations, routine, separation from their children, rules etc. When parents are at odds with each other about these things, the children become stressed. Add the change in routine and they are left feeling unsettled at the least. Here are some valuable tips to help you achieve a successful holiday time.
Stick to the Plan
If you agreed to a Parenting Plan, you should not experience any conflict as long as you stick to it as much as possible. If you are still in the process of drawing up such a plan, this is a good opportunity to try a number of options to discover what works best for you and the children. These plans are not cast in stone, so a good measure of mutual consideration and flexibility would go a long way.
Avoid misunderstandings and disagreements about who has the kids when, by discussing it with your ex in advance. Tell the kids as soon as you have finalised the plans to minimise anxiety on their part. It is helpful to work out a clear schedule for everyone to refer to. However, bear in mind that circumstances do sometimes change at the last minute and it is important to believe in the other parents' best intentions. A reasonable degree of flexibility is always wise and appreciated.
Involve the kids
Depending on the ages and developmental stages of your children, it might not be necessary to involve them in the details of the planning, but it is important to give them an age-appropriate vote in the process. During the divorce process, there is much disruption and upheaval in your lives and it reassures children to feel that they still play a valuable role in some respects. Honour their preferences and wishes, wherever possible.
Build up your child's excitement about the holiday time to be spent with their other parent and allow them to take some of their own stuff with them if it would help them feel comfortable and not get homesick.
Parents need to put their own feelings about their divorce aside and plan a clear, financially realistic holiday that suits everyone. Do not allow conflicts on other issues and unresolved disputes to cloud your judgement when planning holiday schedules. Be practical and apply what you have learned from past vacations, for the benefit of all involved.
Support your child
The way holidays are arranged changes as children grow older and become more independent and capable of separating from their primary caregivers. However, it is your duty to ensure that your child is fully prepared for the impending changes by ensuring them that they will enjoy it and that you are happy about them spending much-needed time with their other parent.
Take care not to burden them with your loneliness while they are gone and maintain a confident and happy disposition when you contact them.
What to pack
Whether your children will be spending the holiday with you or their other parent, ensure that you pack all relevant documentation required to travel, such as passports, birth certificates, permission letter, custody papers, medical requirements etc.
Pack essentials such as swimming aids, sunscreen, hats, medication (with clear instructions), glasses, hearing aid etc. It is senseless to expect the other parent to purchase such expensive extras to meet these needs when the children are with them. Let your kids take their favourite stuff along – sometimes they need something familiar with them, like a toy or a book. Another great idea is to pack an entertainment parcel to keep them busy while in transit.
Be realistic about finances
Divorce means dividing one household into two households and both will inevitably have less money. Although we as parents really try to give our children the same lifestyle that they were used to, it is not always possible. In some cases, both parents are working full-time, so holidays present extra expenses in terms of child care and activities. When parents live far apart, travelling for children to get to the other parent presents new challenges. Trying to outdo the other parent will only create friction and confuse the children.
Try to keep similar household rules in terms of bedtime, screen times, food and drink regulations etc. Enable children to maintain a familiar lifestyle and avoid major upheaval when returning home to their normal routine. Should you decide to make special holiday exceptions, make sure that both parents are in agreement and apply the same principles during this period.
Whether required or not, it always makes co-parenting sense to share itineraries. Apart from the obvious advantages for safety reasons, it helps maintain a connection with the parent who is not with the children. In the event that you are not comfortable giving your ex too many details, at least share general locations and leave a full itinerary with a neutral party in case of an emergency.
Regardless of whether your child is with you or the other parent, it is vital for the child to stay connected with the parent who is not present. Arrange phone calls or face-time for young children and grant older children the freedom to make contact as and when they need to. Remind them regularly to communicate with the other parent and share their holiday experiences. Use one of the many social media platforms to post photos and comments on a group, including all parties in blended families.
Apply co-parenting etiquette when your children are on holiday with their other parent, by co-ordinating interruptions with your ex. The time and frequency of your contact with the children should be balanced and respectful to their schedule. Bear in mind that while young children need regular phone calls from you to stay in touch, you might leave it up to older children to contact you when it suits them best.
If you are feeling anxious about your child going away for a long time and being properly cared for, try to be realistic. Gently remind your ex about the basic childcare stuff and safety regulations, while offering to be on call, should they need any advice or assistance. Realise that you need to hand over the reins and allow your ex to be the primary caregiver for now.
Plan your vacation around special occasions such as Father's Day, Mother's Day, birthdays, sports events, camps etc. It would be unkind to insist on taking the children away on holiday when it is the other parent's birthday for example. Be willing to compromise.
Some separated and divorced parents are comfortable to go on holiday together. It offers a great opportunity to make memories and foster good future relationships for children and parents. Besides, it saves money and simplifies holiday schedules. However, an agreement needs to be reached where finances, chores, sleeping arrangements, new partners etc., are concerned.
While post-marital closeness might be inconceivable to some, it is fast becoming popular worldwide, as a more civilised, sensible way forward.
Being on holiday with your children is not the time to spend alone in the spa, on the golf course with your friends or out at night for adult fun. Make the most of the family time by engaging in activities your children will enjoy. However, plan the odd break for yourself around this.
Enjoy your freedom when the children are away with their other parent. Use this valuable time to self-indulge and do the things you never get around to, such as the spa, movies with an age restriction, going out with friends, spring cleaning, hobbies or a romantic getaway with your new love.
Don't feel guilty – we all need a break from being Mom or Dad!