If you are a parent of a school-age child whose other parent lives somewhere else, planning the summers can be a source of stress. Kids have all kinds of choices to make with school out of the way, which requires parents to consider how much “freedom” to give their kids in setting priorities. Too often the old “good-times” parent vs. the “disciplinarian” scene rears its ugly head. How can the summer schedule be figured out with the best interest of children being the first priority, and how much “choice” should the kids have? Here are a few tips:
- Remember that how communication happens will have more to do with the outcome than what you are trying to say. The only way kids end up doing what is best for them when it is not what they would choose is when both parents agree. This is especially important when a child needs to take summer school, or earn money for a car, or future needs. Kids whose parents can agree on things that the child would not choose give their kids a definite advantage over kids whose summers are purely self-directed. This is too often lost when parents are competing to be the one that the child prefers to be with. Decisions need to be “child-centered”, not “self-centered”, if your kid is going have the best chance in life.
- Practice having “child-centered” conversations. For example: Share with the other parent what you have noticed about your child’s abilities, and ask the other parent what he or she has observed. Also, share observations about how your child has struggled, and what you think might help him or her do better. The key to a good conversation is to stay within the zone of what you both want for your child. Then simply list the ideas you each have, and decide which ones you can agree to “try” (remember there are no guarantees). When you both take ownership of these decisions, you avoid the narrative of who is the better parent when it comes to decisions about your child. Assume you both have input that is of value – because you do.
- Consider your child’s age in weighing his or her input on summer parenting time changes. At ages 12 to 14, a child’s wishes begin to carry more weight as to decisions about parenting time, and with school out it is usually a good time for kids to find out what it would mean to “get their wish”. We consistently remind parents during evaluative mediation sessions that kids need the best of each parent, and will do better in life when their connection with both parents is as healthy and strong as possible. At the same time, your child’s summer activities should be accommodated regardless of which parent they are with. That could create some logistical challenges, but a “team” approach to helping your kid not miss activities will really boost confidence in his or her ability to participate in things, and not be embarrassed in front of peers.
- Plan vacations well in advance and let the other parent know in writing. Remember that you can’t count on the other parent not having other plans, so don’t wait until the last minute (most have a “30-day notice” provision for vacations with kids that are a week or more). You may find you need to adjust dates, and if there is not time to do that, you end up with a crisis.
Finally, if there are things that might need the assistance of others to resolve, start the conversation early. Last minute disagreements are big stressors for parents and kids alike. We can usually schedule summer parenting time mediations on pretty short notice. Give us a call if you need that kind of help.