Going through a divorce tends to be stressful for all parties. The stress level significantly increases when you add children into this process. If custody is shared, this means that children are shifted back and forth throughout the year and that summers become quite a balancing act with each family wanting to share holidays and vacation. Finding ways to manage that stress can be difficult, but it is manageable.
Taking time to make sure you are prepared to tackle what comes with this period tends to help decrease stress and allows you as the parent to focus on what truly matters, more quality time with your children.
Make the Most of Each Visit
One of the things that tends to help is if the parent can have a schedule that is mapped out that allows you to spend quality time with them while they are in your care. This is important, as finding ways to connect on a deeper level ensures that we are able to learn how we (parent and child) are developing and growing. We sometimes forget this, but for love to deepen, we have to be open to where that person is and how we can love and support them. We cannot come to understand this without digging in and being willing to learn about each other. This takes time! Although most parents have to continue to work, this may mean that you allot vacation time for those periods. If you are able to take long vacations where it is just you and your children, that is an amazing asset. It creates memories, while also allowing time for each of you (i.e., you and your child) to discover areas of growth. For those who only have time for short bursts or need to create memories with lower costs, using your city’s event calendar can really help as well. Most cities create family oriented events that are free during the summer months. This is a great way to create great memories, even if it involves a lot of sweat! You could also make a list of things you all have not done as a family. This could be simple like, ice skating, a park you have not been to, or even learning a new ballroom dance. There may also be relatives you have not seen for a while that would not mind meeting at a local park to camp or a beach. The goal would be to find a way to isolate blocks of time where you are connecting and learning about each other.
Depending on the length of their stay, this may also mean reducing other tasks. Putting aside large home projects, and even possibly using dishes that can be tossed to reduce the amount of time that you are away from them during short visits would be helpful. This allows you to create one-on- one family time with them that is meaningful without as many interruptions.
Before the time is over, find a way to capture the memories in a new way. It could be something small, such as picture frame that includes a picture of a memory that was shared during the stay. Or, if you have a child that enjoys being creative, this would be a good opportunity for them to create a scrapbook of what was shared with your help.
When They Are Away
The hardest part of these transitions is when they are away. This is when it is best to have good, healthy support systems in place. Letting close friends know about your schedule is great, which can allow for opportunities for them to provide you with additional support. If you are a spiritual person, this is a great time to reflect on parenting strategies and your views about how you relate to your children.
You can also think of creative ways to connect with them. Using technology to help you regularly call and see them is a great avenue for this area. You can also get creative and send small care packages that are sure to bring a smile to their faces and yours!
A great way to refocus is to get involved in community programming that also allows you to give to others. The summer months are usually hard for most non-profit organizations, as regular volunteers tend to be out on vacations. They would love to have your help! It is also a great way to give back to the community and provide a positive distraction for yourself.
Be Open to Talking About the Stress
A hard lesson to learn in all of this is that such transitions are hard for everyone. And equally so, it is hard to put away the anger and frustration that surrounded the divorce, and even continued conflicts to be able to co-parent. But, to create a healthy transition where such plans work, you have to find a way to put the conflict aside. Working with a therapist, through a spiritual community group, or with a mentor can help with this for you as the parent, but steps also have to be done to help your child.
Tackling both areas helps to create a healthy and open space for your child(ren) to be able to voice concerns and their irritations about the process as well. Living in two different places with two different parenting styles and rule sets is hard! They need a place to openly talk about their frustrations with someone who will also encourage them towards healing, resolve, and continued love. And, to some extent, such discussions should be expected upon their return from the other parents home as they transition into your home. Working to make a smooth transition, is helpful and sets the stage for a great visit!
Keep in mind, this should not be taken as an opportunity to talk bad about the other parent, or his/her parenting style, but to instead help them learn healthy ways of handling conflict and how to extend love in situations where it is frustrating. This approach embraces a view of family that can help set a strong foundation for them as they grow up and create their own. An additional benefit of taking an objective approach in these instances, is that it also creates a scenario that helps children to heal from the process of divorce. They are not removed from the stress that occurs during this period. And, if they are older, may even struggle with the role they may have played. Helping them to talk through such thoughts allows them an opportunity to begin to heal as well.
My Own Walk
It has been four years since my own divorce was finalized. Although time is helpful in some instances, this is not the case in all situations. This path, and the summer month transitions are still hard for me, but is much more “doable.” Although we both work hard to be cordial towards each other, the changes to our schedules and the absence of the girls away from the home is hard for me and my son. I put a lot of these strategies into use, and probably always will. I hope you are able to find some ways to cope with these transitions in a way that allows you to stay grounded as well.