Ah, summertime! Kids get time off from school, and everything gets a little more slow-paced. Except for co-parenting, that is. If your child is an infant or toddler, you may not see much difference between summer and the other three seasons. But if your child is older, the difference can be dramatic!
School year schedules give structure to nine months of the year. Your child’s days and nights may be packed, but events are mostly on the calendar months in advance. Not so in the summertime, when part of the fun is the ability to be spontaneous. Still, vacations, summer camps, and childcare demand planning, and that can strain the most harmonious co-parenting arrangement.
Plan for Supervision
If you have a parenting plan approved by the court, it probably says something about parenting time during the summer. If you’re not quite sure what it says, go ahead and look it up. Remember that you and your ex can agree upon tweaks to your parenting schedule. But if your official parenting plan is completely different from what is actually taking place, it may be time for a revision.
What will take the place of school in your child’s summer schedule? Some parents use daycare or a nanny during the summer months, and those are the simplest but also the most expensive solutions. In many other families, parents alternate having the kids at their homes, with grandparents or other relatives or friends pitching in. Some parents use day camps or day programs for a little parental relief.
Whatever plan that you make for your child, both parents should be on board, and that includes approving of any individual who is going to be in charge of your child.
Set Some Summer Rules
It’s also a great idea to have a discussion about what you’d like to happen during a typical summer day. Some parents don’t mind if their kids sleep until noon and play video games until midnight. Others want their children to have chores, do summer reading and stay active during their time off from school. Children who have one parent in each camp spend a lot of time adjusting and re-adjusting. You and your ex don’t have to run your households exactly the same, but if you can agree upon some shared rules, summer will go much more smoothly.
Work the Calendar
Many judges specify that co-parents should use an online calendar to communicate about kids’ events and daily care. Several commercial applications have been created to meet this need, but a simple online calendar may be all that you need. For example, if an event falls during a time when you are supposed to have physical custody of your child, you don’t have to ask permission but you will need to put it on the calendar. If you want to schedule an event during the other parent’s designated time, you’ll have to clear it with the other parent before entering it on the schedule.
If you want to take a vacation with your child, get the other parent’s okay before you buy the airline tickets or make other expensive arrangements. Summer is prime time for many other events. A shared calendar is great for scheduling events such as:
- Family reunions
- Swim lessons
- Medical check-ups (necessary if you have a child in school sports)
- Vacation Bible school, church camp or other faith-based activities
- Day camp, sleepaway camp or sports camp
- Summer sports league
Share the Costs
Summertime can be expensive, and it’s only right for co-parents to co-pay. That said, one parent shouldn’t sign up a child for an expensive activity and expect the other parent to kick in without checking with the other parent first. If one parent is unwilling or unable to handle extra expenses, consider looking for free or low-cost alternatives. That usually works better than having one parent pay for everything, even if the better-off parent can afford it. Consider church camp or Scout camp instead of a pricey private camp. Get a teenager to hit tennis balls with your child instead of opting for expensive lessons. Many times, the less expensive choices will be more enjoyable for your child.
Consult Your Child
Don’t forget that your child has a right to some input about his or her summer. It might surprise you to learn that what many children crave most during the summer is down time. They also may be eager to spend time with their friends, especially if they are in the tween or teen-age group. Still, three months of doing nothing with friends is probably not in your child’s best interests. You and your co-parent can discuss how much weight to give to your child’s wishes.
Co-Parent Your Older Teen
If your child is an older teenager, you and your co-parent will face some specific challenges. Your child may be learning to drive or may be an early driver. Driving school may have to be fit into the summer schedule. In the supervised driving stage, when your child has a learning permit, one of you will need to spend quite a lot of time driving with your child. Take this responsibility seriously. Once your child is driving solo, you and your co-parent will need to agree upon rules, such as where your child is allowed to drive. The two of you may decide to monitor your child’s driving through an app, recording device or dash cam.
Another challenge of co-parenting older teens is deciding about summer jobs. Although a job can provide a teen with great life experience, it can also make summer schedules difficult, especially if your child is not yet driving. You and your co-parent should consider these issues carefully before okaying a summer job.
Handle Issues with Your Co-Parent
Sometimes you and your co-parent will get along well during the school year, only to experience issues during the summer. These tips can help you handle some common difficulties.
Don’t compete with your ex. You’re human. You may experience an urge to outdo the other parent in the category of summer fun. If you try, you may end up exhausted, and you may not impress your child. Interestingly, research shows that the memories that children cherish most are often simple family times. It may be hard for parents to believe, but water balloon fights and board game tournaments may be remembered as fondly as theme park extravaganzas.
Understand that changes in routine are difficult for some. If your co-parent falls into this category, try to be tolerant. A little extra communication can go a long way toward easing the other parent’s anxiety. Encourage your child to stay in touch with the other parent during your parenting time. Be sure to respond to phone calls and texts from your co-parent. If you are the parent who doesn’t handle change well, ask for extra consideration from your co-parent.
Have a plan for alcohol consumption. Summertime is prime time for barbecues, beach trips and general relaxation, and these are often paired with alcohol use. You and your co-parent will need to agree upon standards for alcohol consumption for the parent caring for the children. Each parent should feel free to call the other for help rather than trying to parent while impaired. A parent with a history of alcohol abuse can use a remote monitoring system such as Soberlink to demonstrate sobriety to the other parent.
Of course, kids come first during every season of the year, but you should set aside some time for self-care, too. The whole summer will go better if you consider your own mental and physical well-being.
Chris Beck is the VP of Business Development in Family Law for Soberlink, the leader in remote alcohol monitoring for family law. Chris educates family law professionals on the latest technology for child custody cases involving alcohol. To create a safer co-parenting environment, Soberlink offers an alcohol monitoring system that includes a breathalyzer with facial recognition and wireless connectivity for real-time alerts. www.soberlink.com