School holiday survival guide for divorced and separated parents by Dan Bottrell
For separated parents, the advance of the school holidays can lead to a sense of dread. Organising how your children will spend the school holiday period, between your household and that of your ex, can be stressful, particularly if a major milestone like a child’s birthday falls during the break.
Conflict over parenting arrangements can have a direct impact on your mood, and if there is tension on the subject, it can be a daily distraction for you, create negative energy which pervades the entire household, and impacts negatively on your children. What should be a happy time can easily become clouded by anger.
As a family lawyer who has witnessed first-hand the stress of school holidays on parents and children, following are my recommendations to avoid letting parenting issues kill the joy of the holiday season:
Think about the holidays in advance, particularly if you are planning overseas or interstate travel. Announcing travel plans at the eleventh hour can add unnecessary pressure on an already strained relationship. Get in touch with your co-parent early. Say that you’d like to agree on, and record, the arrangements for the school holidays well ahead of time so that it is clear for you both, and so that you can put it on a calendar for the children.
Think about what happened last school holidays, in particular what worked well and what didn’t. If you know your co-parent takes time off work on a particular day of the week or has trouble organizing child care, consider offering those times. All going well, your thoughtfulness will lead to some reciprocity.
Do not leave things ‘to be agreed’ at a later point. Record your specific agreement about how the holidays will be shared (for example, half with Parent A, half with Parent B), on what day changeover will occur and who is doing the picking up and dropping off. If there is a history of ‘going back’ on agreements, talk to your lawyer about recording arrangements in a Parenting Order which specifies holiday arrangements (such an Order can include other general parenting issues as well). A lawyer can also help you with a Parenting Plan (a less formal option to an Order) dedicated specifically to school holidays.
Once the arrangements are agreed, let the children know. Some parents choose to put how the holidays will be spent on a calendar, so that the children can mentally prepare for that period, and can be reassured that they will be spending time with both of their parents over the holidays. Knowing when and how they will be returning to your household allows children to relax into their time away.
If you or your co-parent is travelling away from home for a family holiday, it may be important that children bring a particular belonging with them (such as an iPad, for a long flight), so ask for that well in advance. Be mutual in relation to items which belong in your household (for example if your co-parent is taking the children on a beach holiday allow your child to take their surfboard).
If an important event such as a birthday falls during the holidays, so that one parent is missing out, propose a solution to that – a Skype call, a small party to which the other parent is invited. That will likely be appreciated by your co-parent. There will be times when the timing of holidays deprives you of that time, so being thoughtful can pay dividends down the track.
Let the kids have fun
The holidays are about fun. Let the children know that they should enjoy the time they spend at their other parents’ house. Sometimes that is hard for you to heed, but allowing your children to feel ‘free’ to be themselves in the households of each of their parents is something they will thank you for when they are older.
You have fun too
While it is natural to feel a little sad when the house suddenly seems very quiet, use that time to have some ‘you time’. Do a little personal shopping. Get to the cooking you’ve been meaning to try. Lay by the pool and read a book. Whatever helps you re-charge your ‘parent’ batteries. The children will be back soon enough so enjoy the down time while it lasts.
About Dan Bottrell Dan describes himself as a lawyer who, having witnessed the often damaging results of the Court process, knows that non-litigation pathways are softer on children. He loves getting creative to achieve positive outcomes that minimise conflict and reduce the negative fallout of divorce and separation for families. www.danbottrell.com.