9 Steps to make this summer the best yet!
I think my mom and dad both wanted me to be with them in the summer.
Actually, I guess I don’t just think that – I know for certain because I remember them fighting about it in the driveway.
Dad didn’t like being shorted on his time and Mom didn’t like us being away from her.
As a kid, I didn’t know what to feel in that crossfire. So I cried a lot. All summer long.
As an adult and especially as a parent, I feel pretty crummy for them both, really. Because I actually think they both truly wanted what was best for us, though they disagreed with each other on what that was and also didn’t know exactly how to talk to us about it.
There were court orders to uphold, individual and family ideals to consider, the loss of dreams, in-laws who no longer get along, and hundreds of hours in transit in the car. And that’s just for the parents!
The hard part is – the kids have all those things too. Plus birthday parties they have to miss, summer camps they have to choose between, two families and cultures to assimilate into and out of, based on who has visitation.
Then there’s simply the emotions of dealing with a divorce in your family and jealousy of other families who stayed together.
And on top of all that, sometimes there’s even some preferences showing up too… The desire to be home with mom or home with dad sometimes.
But how do you say that to your parent knowing you might break their heart?
Unfortunately, then there’s the relationship of the parents too. The yelling or silent treatment or sensed tension at all times.
And all the other kids left school in May just dreaming about pool parties and camping trips and summer camps and fireflies in the backyard after baseball with their mom and dad and siblings happily singing Kids Jams by the backyard fire.
Or that’s how it seems to a kid whose world and whose summer isn’t quite what they wanted it to be.
My guess is this: You want to have a great summer and you want your kids to have a great summer too!
Here’s a quick 9 step guide to what they need to make it their best summer yet.
1. Be aware:If you, as the parent, can have the brain space to consider all that is going on for them, it can be monumental for them. That awareness cultivates essential empathy, compassion, and a watchful eye for big emotions on the horizon. For example, if you can remember it isn’t simply about getting your “time” with your child but about your child getting what they need too, it can go a long way!
2. Work through some of your issues ahead of time so you can be prepared and ready for what’s to come. By that I mean this: You are an adult whose brain is fully formed with the capabilities and mindfulness to be able to get your needs met. In the midst of all that your kids have going on emotionally with summer, the very last thing they need is to feel as if they need to take care of you. Having needs as an adult is normal – even good – but your kids do not need to be worried about your worries on top of their own.
3. Get on the same page with your ex-spouse. It is excessively painful and confusing for a child to witness his or her parents fighting over them at all, much less all summer. Schedule a phone call with your ex-spouse when your kids aren’t around. Make a plan together for how you’re going to handle the summer, the schedule, the plans. Talk about what you’ll do when things change or go awry. And then believe the best of the other. If there is a situation where a child’s safety is in danger, that’s a different situation. Outside of special circumstances, believe that you both truly have your children’s best interests at heart and even love them dearly. Keeping that commonality in mind can soften harsh relationships. And your kids need that softening! They need to know that when it comes to them, you are still parenting together with love and consistency in mind.
4. Learn how to talk to your kids about the summer. What it is it that they are hoping and dreaming and planning? Have that conversation. Show them you care what they want to do too. And when your ideas clash, be adaptable. Do kids need to get everything they want? Of course not. But do they need to be heard and considered? Always.
5. If it’s hard to adapt or when you don’t know what’s best, line up people (outside of your kids again, remember?) to talk out your frustrations and worries with. Wise counsel is essential for healthy parenting. Maybe this is where you schedule that call with your ex-spouse. Or maybe you call your best friend or your therapist. Make it someone who will also have your kids’ best interests at heart too.
6. Make a plan! Plan fun things, intentionally with your kids hopes and dreams in mind. If they really care about a festival coming to town, make it a point to go. Show them what they care about a big deal to you. If they dream of reading a book in their treehouse to pass several hours, make it a big deal to go buy those books with them or even read them yourself so you can ask them about the characters when you have that campfire outside at night. Your kids want and need you to take an interest in the intricacies of their lives. And when the other parent has a win with your kid, celebrate the fact that your child was loved well and is happy. Now is not the time for summer competitions on which parent is more fun.
7. Reach out to them, if you are the parent away from them, but do it in such a way that has them and your child’s other parent in mind. Maybe this is even something you can plan ahead in that phone call with your child’s other parent. If a phone call to your son or daughter would be upsetting, maybe send a text just to let them know you’re on their mind and you hope they are having the best time.
8. Remember – they want and need you. Your best you. At every age. Especially under stress. Even your teenagers who you’d swear don’t even like you anymore! They need you if you’re the parent with them or away from them. They need to know you have them on your heart and in your mind. They need you to have space for them to be kids and have fun and struggle.
9. Offer everyone grace. Offer grace to your kids. This is not the summer dream they had in mind. Offer grace to your child’s other parent or stepparent. They are likely doing the best they can just like you. And offer grace to yourself. You will make mistakes. No one parents perfectly, especially amidst a struggle like divorce. This is no one’s dream situation.
I did the court-ordered summer visitation plan for over a decade of my childhood. And if I’m honest, I didn’t handle it all super well. Of course I didn’t.. I was a kid! And if my parents are honest, they didn’t always handle all of it super well either. Of course they didn’t – it was hard!
But I’ll tell you this – Without fail, my mom sent me a card telling me every 8 day period I was with my dad because she knew a phone call would make me cry. She’d tell me what all was going on at home and how excited she to see me soon. I knew I was in her heart.
During his weeks, my dad took us to this really fun arcade and played putt-putt with us all.the.time. My stepmom and I shared a love for books so when I was sad to be away from home, she took me to McKay’s Used Bookstore and let me pick out Babysitter’s Club books by the dozen. Looking back, it couldn’t have cost more than a couple dollars, but it meant the world to me. She saw me, cared about what I cared about, and that still matters deep in my bones.
As a kid, summer is the most anticipated season of the year for most of us. With a little help, preparation, and a lot of presence of mind on your part, that can be true for your child, even when divorce tries to sneak in and steal the fun.
For you and your family, whatever that family looks like, I wish a summer full of memories, dreams, and love that your kids cherish for a lifetime.
A final note to parents – If you’re thinking I missed a few of your big summer worries and things on your mind, don’t worry! A Summer Guide: The Parent’s Version will be headed to a blog near you soon! Let us know if you have any specific questions you want us to mention!
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