Summer vacations are a time for families to reconnect and make memories. For a family emerging after a divorce, a post-divorce summer vacation can be a time of healing after a stressful period. Here are some thing to consider to set up your summer vacation for success.
Vacation should be part of the planning you do during the divorce process. My bias is to choose a divorce process, such as collaborative divorce or mediation that allows you and your co-parent to create a parenting plan that meets the unique needs of your family.
During that process, you and your spouse should create a parenting plan that specifies guidelines for family vacations such as the length of vacations, minimum advance notice and any limits (e.g. international travel or presence of new significant others). Many families include vacations as part of an annual family calendar.
Before each vacation, you should create a travel itinerary for your co-parent. The itinerary should include dates, flight times and hotel numbers. Provide this information to your co-parent as soon as you know it and within a reasonable amount of time prior to vacation.
In addition to communicating vacation plans ahead of time, you and your spouse should set expectations for communicating during the vacation. Will your co-parent talk to the child daily, weekly or only in cases of emergency? Will your child text or email with their other parent over vacation? Will you set a specific time for check-ins or leave it to be child-directed (if your son wants to call Dad and tell him about the cool museum, then that’s when you call). There isn’t a right or wrong plan; the important point is to manage expectations to avoid conflict or unnecessary stress.
It cannot be stated enough: family vacations are about strengthening connections and making memories. Keep your child’s age and interests in mind when you plan a vacation. If your child naps, don’t schedule an all-day sightseeing trip. Put away your devices and focus on your relationship with your child. Also, don’t try to outdo your spouse by going on a more expensive vacation. Going over the top can set up unrealistic expectations for your child and it isn’t necessary. Wonderful memories can be made whether you are camping or at Disney World.
Put your child’s experience first. Get excited about the vacation they will take with your co-parent. Ask questions ahead of time and look over the pictures when they return. Too often, children of divorce are expected to compartmentalize their experience to avoid hurting the other parent’s feelings and this can be exhausting for them. Stick with the communication plan, but also be flexible. If your daughter and her mom stay late to see fireworks and she texts instead of calling, then roll with it. Allow them to have some spontaneity on vacation and, hopefully, that gracious attitude will be reciprocated when you are on vacation as well.
Much of the spontaneity left the vacation process once you had children. Vacations post-divorce require an extra level of planning, but it is worth it for the vacation to go smoothly. The opportunity to connect and make memories is a lifelong gift to your children.