Making Summer Great–from Two Homes

Tips for divorced parents to get on the same page and provide a great summer for all of their children from two homes.

“Mom! Only three more weeks—then SUMMER VACATION!!!!” Jenny shouted gleefully as she descended the school bus steps. Annie forced a smile as she bit her tongue. Navigating co-parenting around school had been hard enough. Now summer?!

Though summer is supposed to be the season of fun, many parents dread the challenges of extended time without the routine of school. The challenge seems even more daunting from two homes.

Annie and Adam’s attorneys focused parenting plans on the school year. Their agreement left it up to them to figure out summer. Annie’s friend said her agreement just said to follow the parenting guidelines. “But, those guidelines don’t work for our kids’ summer activities, so we end up still fighting.”

Lack of guidance opens the doors to conflict—ruining summer for parents and children alike. But, parents CAN make summer great. Here’s how.

First—Make a Summer Plan

Annie knew that when she and Adam set expectations around the school year, they all cooperated more easily. So, she reached out to ask him, “Hey, before school gets out, can we set aside time to get on the same page about how we want summer to work?” Adam readily agreed.

To build a plan, they discussed:

What takes the place of school? For nine months out of the year, children’s days revolve around the routine of school. What will summer days revolve around?

Some parents want a very loose, easy summer. Others desire days to still have a set rhythm and flow.

Yet, even if parents differ, considering where they can align and how they can support each other when different makes summer easier for all. Communicating to the children what to expect in each home also helps children transition more easily.

What does childcare look like? In addition to setting the routine, school provided childcare for most of the day. Who/what will do this over the summer?

Will parents share a caregiver, provide the care during their time with the children, or each hire someone independently? If sharing, how will that be paid? If parents plan to use summer camps—who will register children? How will those fit around summer vacations and other activities such as sports?   

Parents often agree on the big picture (“We’ll each get our own sitter”) but the details can create issues (Mom decides to use current unemployed boyfriend for her time.) Talking through the details helps to head off misunderstandings and conflict.

Speaking of activities, what is the summer schedule? Particularly as children get older, sports and other activities can claim huge parts of summer. Putting all the sports camps, church camps, trips to grandparents or with friends, and other activities on a calendar helps parents get a handle on how summer looks.

Parents see:

  • where transportation issues may arise (camp gets out at 3:30 but work ends at 5:00),
  • where activities overlap (baseball camp begins the day before church camp ends), and
  • where there are breaks for taking family vacations.

Sometimes the calendar shows that anticipated issues are taken care of while others emerge. Knowing these enables parents to make a plan.

Second—Define Summer Rules

With a plan in place, Adam said, “I’m so looking forward to late-night campouts in the backyard and lazy mornings.” Annie cringed a bit. She truly believed the children would do better with more structure.

While each acknowledged the other would have their own style in their own home, they agreed some consistency between homes would help their children transition. So, they agreed to blend their visions.

Annie and Adam agreed to a set bedtime during the week (with open-ended times on the weekend), a relaxed wake-up time, and some activities to define the week mixed with plenty of free time. The children appreciated having both set activities and downtime to play.

Annie and Adam also clarified consequences for misbehavior they would use during the summer. They wanted to ensure neither parent imposed a consequence that put the other parents’ summer plans in jeopardy.

Finally—Include the kids’ perspectives

Adam and Annie felt good about the plan for their 8- and 4-year-old but wondered about their 15-year-old. They knew she already felt stretched by her part-time job, band and volleyball camps, and volunteer work for college applications. More, she wanted to spend time with friends—time already limited by her going between her parents’ homes.

They decided to include her in the planning. “Jenny,” they asked, “as we plan for the summer, how can we make it work well for you?”

Annie and Adam made it clear family time—with both parents—needed to be a priority. They asked how to blend that with everything else she had going.

Jenny shared that she wanted time with both of them. She also wanted to do some key events with her friends. Everyone agreed to put her top 4 events on the summer calendar and protect those. Jenny agreed to skip other opportunities to make room for time at home.

Jenny’s biggest request startled Annie and Adam. “Please don’t make me the babysitter. Hannah’s parents use her for free babysitting all summer. Please don’t ask that.”

Jenny explained that she didn’t mind watching her siblings some of the time. “But when you have me do it a lot, they really resent me. They don’t want me to ‘act like Mom.’ But, how am I supposed to act when I’m in charge?”

Adam and Annie realized Jenny wanted to be the sister—not the parent. More, they had seen the damage to sibling relationships in Hannah’s family. They agreed to hire a college student for the summer. Ironically, Jenny’s summer job became watching a little boy down the street. “But, it’s so different than with Jamie and Jake,” she said. “With him, I’m a cool babysitter. With Jamie and Jake—they just want me to be sis.”

While the process took a few tries, Adam and Annie felt more prepared for summer and for helping each other. More, as the kids descended the bus steps on the last day of school—everyone looked forward to a great summer.

If you would like more information on co-parenting or other issues in divorce, please contact Resolution Mediation by clicking HERE or calling 317-793-0825. We look forward to serving you. As always, the above is for information only. Seek a divorce professional for guidance in your personal situation.

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