Note: this post is meant for co-parenting situations that do not include abuse.
Summertime custody schedules can be a stressful time of year for kids of divorce – especially when their parents have a custody arrangement where one parent has primary custody and the other parent has limited visitation throughout the year.
My own divorce does not have a 50/50 custody schedule, and that’s because that is what Jeff and I thought was best for our little Modern Family. For the past 8 years since Jeff and I have been divorced, our 2 teenagers have primarily lived with me and we don’t have a struct visitation schedule with him. This is mainly because Jeff’s career keeps him pretty busy with a lot of travel and because we wanted the kids to focus on their school work and social lives.
Each family needs to decide what is best for their individual family based upon unique factors such as parent’s work schedules, location of each household, etc. If both parents cannot agree on a schedule (or one parent will not agree because they are stuck on trying to hurt the other parent), then the family court will decide.
So, if you are the primary custodian of your kids and it is time for them to spend a few weeks (or months) with their other parent, here is some advice to help you prepare your kids for their summertime visitation.
Get Your Feelings In Check
First, just because your kids might voice disappointment, nervousness, or downright anger about having to spend time at the other parent’s house over the summer, this does not mean that:
- Your kids like you the best
- That they are in danger of being abused at the other parent’s house
- That they will be neglected at the other parent’s house
- Or, that it is bad for your child’s development for your child to spend time with the other parent.
If your kids primarily spend their time at your house, it is natural that they will resist the idea of spending some time away from their “comfort zone”. At your house they are familiar with your rules, your routine, and your environment. Kids don’t necessarily like to readjust; it takes effort on their part and they just like to relax during their summer break.
Still not satisfied that encouraging your kids to have a good relationship with the other parent is a good thing? Let me be the voice of reason for you then. Study after study has shown that kids do better emotionally, academically, and socially when they have a warm and positive relationship with both parents.
So, now that you are (somewhat) convinced that it’s a good idea for your kids to spend time this summer with their other parent, what is the best way to prepare your kids for the transition?
Glad you asked…
Tips on Getting Your Kids Ready For The Summertime Custody
1. Schedule Have a planning meeting with your ex. This might be difficult if you don’t have a very good relationship with your ex, but try to have a positive, fruitful conversation with your ex for your kids’ sakes. The more effort you put in to creating a positive co-parenting relationship with your ex, the better it is for your kids.
Try to get on the same page with household rules, expectations for behavior, and discipline. It’s ok if your ex has a few different rules (i.e. at their house its ok to have dessert after dinner every night, while it’s only a treat on the weekends at your house), but it’s best if you both agree on the “big” rules.
Inform your ex about any new developmental details that have occurred in the past year or so.If your ex has not seen the kids in a long time or if they don’t normally spend a long stretch of time with the kids, prepare them for any new changes your kids have gone through such as new bedtimes, new dietary habits, etc..
2. Watch your attitude, as it influences how your kids feel about the situation. As I previously pointed out earlier in this article, it is natural for your kids to voice some concerns about having to go spend time away from their primary residence. When these conversations come up, listen to your child’s concerns and then try to point out a positive reason for spending time with the other parent.
3. Allow your kids to talk about their feelings, but don’t let these conversations turn into a gripe session. If you think that your kids might benefit from talking to a therapist, having a few sessions with a mental health professional is always a good idea. It also might help to get together with other families who have gone through the same thing. This way, you and your kids can learn from families who have navigated these waters before you.
4. Teach your kids that it’s ok to have some different rules at your house and different rules at the other parent’s house. Point out that each of their previous teachers have had different classroom rules, but all the major school rules were the same. Discuss with your kids the positives and negatives of when this happened with their teachers and let them know that this also will happen throughout their lives as well. For example, they might have several different bosses that they will work for in the future and each of these individuals will have different rules and expectations too.
Also take the time to remind them that you expect them to uphold the rules at your ex’s house, just like they will obey the rules at your house.
5. Prepare your kids that it is ok that they miss you (you will miss them) and use this opportunity to teach them how to manage these feelings. Have a schedule for when you will call each day and for how long the call will last in order to touch base with your child. Encourage your child to talk to your ex about their feelings. Of course, your ex won’t react in the same exact way you would in this situation, but this encourages your child to form a good relationship with their other parent.
If your child is still pretty young, make sure you send a comfort item with them like a favorite stuffed animal, pillow, or blanket. It is comforting for your child to have a little similarity in an unfamiliar environment.
6. Prepare your kids for when they get scared or don’t know what to do at the other parent’s house. Again, reassure them that it’s ok to talk to the other parent about their fears and feelings. Make sure your child brings some of their favorite activities to do at your ex’s house.
7. Do not talk excessively about the fun things you will be doing while they are away. It’s understandable that you will plan some things to do while your kids are away, but it’s unfair to your kids to encourage them to wish they were with you instead of with their other parent. Let your kids know about your plans, but balance these conversation with discussing the fun things your kids will be doing with your ex.
It Will Be Ok
Believe it or not, the summer will be over before you know it and your kids will be back at your house.
Once they are home, it is good to hear all about their visit, but do not pry if they don’t feel up to sharing every detail with you. And as much as you might want to, don’t ask gossipy questions about your ex’s new home, spouse, job, etc. that might make your kids feel uncomfortable.
The goal of your kids spending this visitation time with your ex is to encourage a good relationship between themselves and both of their parents. Be the parent that your kids need you to be by being supportive of this relationship.