Hello, Summer. Goodbye, Conflict: Tips on Having a Conflict-Free Summer Visitation
With summer right around the corner, I can already smell the fresh-cut grass and sunscreen. I can hear the cracks of a baseball against the bat and kids laughing in the yard. And I can see sun shining days and chalk drawings on the sidewalks. But with that childhood, summer freedom, comes—for parents—stress. Often, parents must balance work, childcare, camps, and vacations during the summer. Now, factor in the added stress of two household parenting—and there is a recipe for a complicated summer. Although every family situation is unique, there are steps parents can take to aid in a conflict-free summer with their exes.
- Read your Separation Agreement and Decree
The court ordered separation and custody agreement is the playbook for two household parents. In it, there is often valuable information on custody, timesharing, child support, and other child-related issues.
Some parties switch up the timeshare arrangements with the children during the summer. Some children may spend more time with the “non-residential” parent during the summer. So, check to see if your timeshare schedule changes or remains the same.
Most agreements also contain summer and vacation provisions. In those sections, look carefully for notice requirements. Many agreements have language requiring a parent to tell the other parent in advance of any vacation plans. Add those notice requirements to your calendar, so you do not forget to inform the other party of upcoming vacations—eliminating any scheduling conflicts. Also, pay close attention to summer-time holidays, such as the Fourth of July, as these days may be rotated with a different parent each year, or the day split between households. If you planned a vacation over such a holiday, make sure that it is your year to celebrate it with the children.
Likewise, check on any additional financial obligation you may have for your child during the summer. Camps and childcare can be expensive. Look to see what your agreement says regarding payment of those expenses.
- Focus on the Kids
As the parent, rule number one is always look out for your child’s best interest. That does not change because you are living in separate households. Remember, your children still love and care for their other parent no matter what you say about them. So, do not disparage your ex in front of the kids, and do not try, deliberately, to limit the time your kids spend with the other parent. Children have memories just like adults; do not let that kind of behavior be their memory of you.
When it comes to scheduling, focus on the needs of your child. Oftentimes, summer is when kids want to see their friends and extended family members. If this is true for your family, try to incorporate that into your summer parenting plan. Try not to overwhelm your children with camps and other activities. Allow for some downtime when available. Give them time to recharge. After all, it is their summer vacation, too.
- Be Flexible
Almost every family reorganization brings changes that ultimately affect the parenting schedule. And when those changes inevitably happen, be flexible.
Summer is a time where weddings, parties, graduations, reunions, and other celebrations occur. Those dates may not conform to the schedule. Employment may change—for the parents or the children. As the expression goes, “life happens”. You need to remain flexible because there will be a time when you need grace from your ex, and having some goodwill in your corner is never a bad thing. Children grow, and their interests change. When this happens, document the changes in writing and attempt to work out a new schedule for your children’s best interest to avoid future conflicts—and expensive court fights.
All successful co-parenting couples will tell you that communication is key. Children are not meant to be a parent’s messenger. At the end of the day, you are the adult. Communicate with one another for their benefit.
There are many ways to make this happen, even if talking to your ex sounds like the end of the world. There is e-mail, text messaging, online calendars, and even phone apps, such as AppClose or OurFamilyWizard, which allows parents to efficiently communicate and minimize contact. By utilizing these tools, you can limit misunderstandings and scheduling conflicts. Parents need to communicate about summer plans sooner, rather than later. Once a plan is developed, create a written calendar in both households, so parents, and the children, know what to expect.
If you stay positive about the situation, your child will be positive. Remember to always be respectful to the other parent. If your child misses the other parent, do not take it personally. Instead, encourage and foster a positive relationship with the other parent. Even though they are no longer your partner, they are, after all, still your child’s parent.
- Think Ahead
Summer is a short-time period. It comes and goes too quickly. That being said, think ahead. Start looking now at the upcoming school calendar. Communicate with your ex regarding who is responsible for school enrollment, medical visits, vaccines, school schedules, and school expenses. If you have a joint custody arrangement, remember to include your ex on all paperwork.
By following these simple rules, you can say hello to summer, goodbye to conflict, and have a magical twelve weeks!