OMG! It is the end of April and you haven’t planned things for your children for the summer! You may be recently separated and have been busy and overwhelmed by setting up two homes, juggling your kid’s school work and equipment, communicating with your co-parent, paying attention to homework, potty training or SAT prep. You may be already divorced but have not set up a time to work on summer planning yet.
It is no surprise this has missed you this year. Be gentle with yourself. But: Note to Self – we should make sure we plan a meeting in early March next year. Here are some tips to get you through this challenge:
1) Don’t panic – breathe and realize that this year is a very unusual time. Give yourself some slack for being in a complicated situation that you are adjusting to. Divorce makes life complicated, especially when you are just going through it, or in the first year after the divorce.
2) Take some time to think about your kids, their interests, their friends and family traditions from past years. Start to think creatively about how a favorite family tradition could be adjusted in ways that save the event and yet acknowledge that it won’t be the way it was in years past. For example, one parent can take the kids on the camping trip, and the other takes them to the grandparents. You could also divide a week away between the two of you, where one parent comes mid-way and the other parent leaves.
3) The first year is most likely unique. To take the pressure off of knowing what will always work, let yourself consider an arrangement that works just this year. Next year you can take more time to plan, and you’ll know what worked well and what did not.
4) Prioritize for each child and yourself what are the most important summer activities: i.e. continuing sports, art/drama/music, camps, meaningful traditions with family and friends.
5) Remember to include the practical matters of work schedules, financial limitations, and your need to have some down time with the children and without them.
6) Do the research to know about camp schedules, family trips, costs, and availability of friends and family for summer activities.
7) Call, email or text your child’s other parent asking for their thoughts and ideas about the summer BEFORE you talk to your kids, buy tickets or sign them up. Don’t commit the kids to something that affects their time with their other parent without that parent’s agreement.
8) You and your co-parent need to decide about the general schedule for this summer as well as share what your hopes are for the kids. If your kids have already asked about the annual family camping trip, or time with grandparents, include those activities in your discussion with your co-parent. What are the children expecting or hoping for? What have you already talked to them about? What is feasible or realistic?
9) List options to review with your kids and a timetable for decision making. What things do the children have choices about, and what plans are not optional?
10) Create a plan and use your family calendar to list the events. Be sure that both parents have access to that calendar; it is an important communication tool.
As a child therapist, collaborative coach and child specialist, I have talked with many separating/divorcing families, I know this is not easy but it is possible.
Learning to organize your thoughts and feelings and communicate with your co-parent are skills to learn or refine. Taking time for self care- taking a walk, going out in nature, connecting with good friends – these will help you recover from the inevitable times of feeling overwhelmed and help you regain your perspective and perhaps your sense of humor.
Wishing you some fun this summer.
Elizabeth Salin, MFT, is a family therapist, Divorce Coach and Child Specialist in Marin County.
photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.