The freedom from routine and structure that we love about summer isn’t always as welcome when in the middle of a divorce. Summer introduces a whole new set of challenges that for medium and high conflict families can bring even more chaos to the day-to-day experience of divorce.
The school year provides a routine for activities, bedtime and transitions that are reliable and typically less disruptive. Even though there might be some struggle, the boundaries are clear and the co-parenting, or parallel parenting, mostly continues with just holiday and vacation disruptions.
Summer shifts everything for everyone and once again it can impact one spouse more than the other. It requires far more communication about everything from multiple summer programs or camps, last minute plans with friends, later nights, later mornings, and generally a lack of routine. Add to that the cost of summer and all the extras needed to entertain. Summer in the best of situations is tough on working parents, but throw in divorce and it can be unbelievably stressful!
Oh wait, did we mention visits to or from extended family- cousins, uncles, aunts and the in-laws (sometimes known as the out-laws)? Just when you thought losing one of “your” nights to a summer sleepover was upsetting, now you have your spouse pulling the “family” card! Or, you have the traditional July 4th family gathering and you want to bring your children so that they can have the same carefree experiences with family that you remember as a child, but your spouse makes it difficult. During divorce, spouses often become territorial and petty and count every hour and withhold the children, but for what end? Every situation is different, so it might be that the spouse genuinely feels the children are not emotionally or physically safe with the other family. But more often than not, it is a veiled power play to get back at the other spouse. In divorce spouses count every single minute, yet for children it is a summer as a whole. Children don’t count the hours or the nights, they live in the moment and will remember the feeling of having had summer fun with with both parents and family. So whenever possible, and we know this is so much easier said than done, it is best to loosen the reigns on the day-to-day and avoid transferring the stress about time to the children.
In some cases, one extended family represented all the summer fun with a vacation home on the lake, a traditional reunion barbecue, or some other ritual. So in divorce, there might be profound grief and sense of loss for the “out” spouse. In those situations, it can be hard to watch the children go off with the other parent and carry on those traditions without you. But, the children deserve to have access and memories with their family. And for others, the relief and freedom from having to attend your spouse’s annual gathering might be exhilarating! Once again, it is clear that while many of the stressors in divorce are universal, for many the journey is uniquely challenging.
Another complicated issue is often the passport. Parents in divorce have instinctive fear around the spouse having control over the passport and taking their kids on international travel. The handful of horrific news stories contribute to the fear and if you have specific reason to fear the travel, then definitely consult your legal professional for advice. However, withholding access to the passport and/or agreement to international travel is often used as a controlling power play. This is just one example of why a more amicable (or as amicable as is possible) divorce and parenting plan agreement is so important. The ability to discuss and agree to these day-to-day situations will allow you more freedom with your children as well as minimize the discord moving forward. We know we are preaching to the choir and that these simple conversations, agreements and a bit of flexibility do not exist in many divorces. We get it.
Let’s hope for a happy and conflict-free summer. You need it and your children need it.
You’ve got this. We’ve got you.
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