by Jonathan Z. Petro
In the rousing words of Alice Cooper, “School’s Out for Summer,” and vacation is quickly approaching. This may mean family vacations for some or summer camp programs for others. For children of divorce, however, their summer vacation may also include spending time with the non-custodial parent to comply with visitation requirements within the divorce decree of their parents. For these children, this time may cause an array of emotions. Such emotions can range from elation to fear to total disappointment, as the child may feel that the required visits impose upon their “fun time.” Recognizing that a child may be having mixed emotions about the visit will go a long way in helping to alleviate the stress and make the visits more enjoyable for all.
With many children separated from non-custodial parents by geographical distance throughout the school year, children of divorce become, to some extent, unattached to that same non-custodial parent. As a result, when visiting a non-custodial parent during the summer months, it may take several days or weeks for the parent and child to re-connect and feel comfortable during the summer visitation experience. This “acclimatizing” period is necessary and generally healthy.
Non-custodial parents who intend to spend time with their children for extended periods in the summer should prepare well in advance. It is important to have a plan at their place of employment to ensure that the parent has quality time with the child. While it may not be possible for the parent to take the whole summer visitation period off of work, it may be necessary to provide for appropriate summer activities and supervision for the child while the non-custodial parent is at work. Oftentimes, this requires the use of summer childcare or short-term summer camp or the use of extended family caregivers. The non-custodial parent can help their child adjust to this arrangement by discussing this with the child in advance, and also familiarizing the child with the plan or schedule. Children of any age like the stability of a plan. Having the custodial parent as an ally in this process is invaluable. The non-custodial parent may need to work through feelings of anger and hurt, but summer vacation provides an opportunity for uninterrupted blocks of time where quality parenting time can take place. The non-custodial parent should take advantage of this time and see it as a blessing. The non-custodial parent should never express negative feelings or comments to the child, with regard to the custodial parent, as this may alienate the child from the other parent or could leave the child feeling alienated from the commenting parent. There is no substitute for common sense when it comes to determining what to say to a child but getting advice from a trained professional can always be beneficial. The child’s therapists or doctors can provide some guidance, as can the custodial parent. If there are concerns that are legal in nature, a consultation with a family law attorney could be invaluable.
As with any child visitation or custody arrangement, continual involvement in the child’s life is essential in providing for the most optimal outcome when summer visitation arrives.