Summer has officially arrived! The kids are out of school and looking forward to long lazy days by the pool and late nights staying up and watching TV way past their usual bedtime. Summer is a time when parents and kids alike can take some time to kick back and take a breather from the usual grind - for a couple of months anyway.
Summer break can also be a time of anxiety and upheaval. Usual routines give way to camp schedules, the juggling of summer break activities, and the coordinating of child care arrangements to fill the gaps in between. It can all be quite overwhelming. In the co-parenting/ post-divorce world, add in the additional feature of coordinating summer vacation weeks with your co-parent while navigating around the above described minefield and well -- it’s enough to make your brain hurt .
Even though Brendan and I co-parent very well, we are not immune from the summer time stress. Add the craziness of our trial schedules into the mix, and we’re basically a couple of walking and exposed nerves trying to manage the chaos on a day to day basis.
After a particularly rough day recently, I decided to head to a yoga class to take my mind off of the madness and I am very glad that I did. At the beginning of my yoga class, the yogi spoke in gentle tones and invited us to “let go.” To let go of the stress of the day. To let go of whatever was weighing us down. To let go of any insecurities or limitations. As I laid on my mat, I began to think how this mantra can and should be applied to the summer parenting schedule - both for my clients and in our situation. If yoga is not your thing, think of it this way: sometimes you have to take a page from Disney's "Frozen" and just "let it go."
Inevitably, the well crafted camp and activity schedule will encounter a hiccup. Maybe your child will get sick and alternate care plans will have to be made. Maybe it’s Dad’s week with the children and he has to unexpectedly work late and needs Mom’s help to pickup or drop off at the end of the day. Maybe it’s Mom’s week and she has an unexpected business meeting out of town and needs Dad to cover pick up and drop off for a couple of days when he was not expecting to do so. And on and on… Any number of things could happen that could throw a monkey wrench in your plans. Any of these situations would be enough to make tempers flare. Since you can’t control the universe, what can you control? Your reaction of course! So let it go! Roll with the punches. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your co-parent and ask for help. Similarly, don’t be afraid to offer help when you see the other parent struggling. When there are so many moving parts to the co-parenting machine, flexibility is absolutely essential.
While thinking of the “let it go” mantra, I was reminded of something that I saw while at dinner over spring break. Felix and I were seated one table over from a parent having dinner with two children who appeared to be around 10 and 12 respectively. From what I could gather, the kids were preparing to spend the week with their other parent (the parent in the restaurant was speaking loudly enough for me to hear, so no worries that I am eavesdropping on people). This parent had a laundry list of do’s and don’ts for the kids while they were away: “Don’t stay up too late,” “Don’t eat too much candy,” “Don’t stay out in the sun too long,” “Don’t eat unhealthy food and if they try to offer it to you, say no." There were many more don’ts that I could repeat, but you get the point. It was heartbreaking to see the excited smiles on each child’s face slowly drain away to silence and downward stares as each “don’t” was stated and reinforced. At one point, even Felix whispered to me “gosh, are they allowed to do ANYTHING? Do you think they will have fun?” If there was ever a time to “let it go” - it was then. Even our (then) 7 year old could pick up on the theme of that conversation. I can only imagine how those kids felt in that moment.
I am sure that similar conversations happen all the time around the holidays, summer breaks and other periods of extended parenting time. On the one hand, I sympathize with the parent in the restaurant because it can be hard to be away from your kids for an extended period of time. You will miss them and they will miss you. You will wonder what they are up to and if they are safe. However, as the parent, you have to just "let it go." First, you have to take the position that your co-parent/ex-spouse has the children’s safety and comfort at heart. Beyond that, you cannot control what happens at the other parent’s home. You can’t control how much candy your kids eat at the other parent’s home or that exact bedtimes are followed any more than you can control those things at your own home. Ask yourself if in the grand scheme of things, do these things really matter? Absolutely not, so…just let it go!
From the child’s perspective, all of this haranguing and negativity only serve to send the message that going to the other parent’s home is taboo and a place to mind yourself and abide by all the picayune rules that have been established…"or else." Kids who internalize this message will be more concerned about running afoul of the rules rather than focusing on having fun and bonding with the other parent. Such kids are literally walking on eggshells rather than relaxing and enjoying their summer. This is simply not fair to the children. As I wrote in a prior post, the great thing about parents is that very rarely (if ever) are they exactly alike. Mom has traits and attributes that are different from Dad’s and vice versa - and that’s okay! It is actually a good thing.
Extended summer parenting time is a great time for kids to break from the usual day to day grind (yes, kids have a grind too - just ask them) and take the time to really spend some quality time with each parent without the added pressure of school schedules, tests, homework, practices, games, events and activities. If that means eating messy banana splits at 10 pm on a Wednesday night on a particularly sweltering July evening…well, maybe that will be the memory that your child will hang on to and treasure for the rest of his/her life.
So, what can you do to prepare yourself (and your children) to “let it go”? Simply law the groundwork with them for those long summer parenting weeks with these positive words: “I hope you have a great time at Mom/Dad’s this summer! I know you will have lots of fun. I’ll miss you but I’ll see you again soon.” These simple words will not only put your children at ease, it gives them permission to enjoy themselves when they are with their other parent and let go of any fears of “breaking any rules.” These words and the mindset they represent also open up the space to allow you to let go of any anxiety that your “rules” will not be followed. Expect that they won’t be, and accept that fact and just…."let it go."
Wishing you all a happy, fun, and stress free summer!