We get it.
If all was well you'd be looking forward to the summer. School's out, the weather's trying its best, stretched out before you are weeks upon weeks filled with freedom and hope. Well, at least for your kids, that is, as they look at you with an innocent glow in their eyes, waiting to hear what wonderous plans you have for them over the break.
Being a separated parent is tough in this situation. Hopefully by now the living arrangements have been sorted out between you and your co-parent. If they're still up in the air, it's hard not to show that on your face when you talk to the kids. We know that it can be really difficult to keep a smile there for them, to try not to let them know how much you blame your ex for ruining what could've been a hassle-free summer. Even if the arrangements have been sorted, what we also have in mind is the hangover you might have still from all those struggles, all the negotiation and arguing it may have taken to get there with your ex.
Ahead of the next holiday break or as things get back to normal and you need the regular living arrangements worked out, think about how discussing them with your co-parent at mediation might help make life a little easier next time. But for now, here are 5 ways in which, no matter how up in the air the arrangements are for the coming weeks, you can still make things more exciting for your kids. And what we'd say about these tips are that they apply to all separated parents even if you're lucky enough to have kids who've shown some resiliance and don't appear too bothered about what's been going on.
one. your kids, the captains of their ships
For the time you'll be spending with them, close that into a box and try to forget all the noise outside. No matter how you feel inside, your kids will lap up any inspiration you show them. They may well talk to you about how negative they're feeling about being away from your co-parent, or why you or your co-parent are at fault for all the troubles in their lives, or what they miss about this or about that. If they do, acknowledge this, try your hardest to empathise with them, make sure they know that you understand how they feel. But then, even if they don't tell you all this and instead just shut you out, give them some space, let them know at all times that you're there for them. And for the coming weeks of summer, tell them that you'd love to hear what ideas they have to make the most of it.
Empowering them in this manner may not work straight away, but don't let that stop you. Reinforce with them that you totally get that, yes, things could be better, but that the little moments you share together might help them adjust. Without pushing, pressuring, often it can be effective if they're given a few suggestions about what they might like to do with you, what you love doing with them, and then given space to come up with their own ideas, those ideas never being shut down but part of a genuinely collaborative discussion about how the break will be spent.
It's important here to help them understand that although the time you have with them might be fixed, what they can do with you within that timeframe is more flexible. If their ideas are expensive or impractical, don't shut them down, but instead ask them to include those ideas within a larger list of things they might want to do, encouraging them to think of things that can be done cheaply and locally as well as one or two more 'special' ideas.
And again, if they continue to shut you out and don't come up with anything, try not to throw the toys out the pram yourself. Instead, remind them that the door's still open for their ideas, and if they have to come along with you to do what you've come up with, even if it's just to go into town for some shopping, try to build into that kind of trip a small surprise thing for them to do or get that you know they might like.
two. for the time you won't be with them
The arrangements might be such that at some point during the summer you won't be with your kids. Bummer, right?
Well OK, you might miss them, but don't feel guilty if you're also thankful for the break. Everyone needs a break sometimes! So make sure you make the most of that break, and while you're at it, although you should make sure the kids know that you'll be missing them, it can helpful for you to get them to focus more on the exciting things they'll be doing when they're away from you. Being curious about that before and after, soaking in and mirroring their excitement, or encouraging them to think of little things they might enjoy if they're showing trepidation about their time with your co-parent, can help remind them not only that you understand what they're feeling, that you'll be there for them when they come back, but also that they have it in them to make the summer as good as it can be.
So if they're telling you that they're not looking forward to being away from you, or when they come back that they've had a terrible time with your co-parent, once again acknowledge it, keep the door open, but try to steer them back to what exciting things you'll be doing together with them, what one or two positive things they've enjoyed while away from you, even dropping into that conversation if you think it's ok, that in their own way your co-parent wants the most for them as well despite what your kids might think, that both of you don't have all the answers and are trying your best to make things work for them.
three. create summer memories
With so much going on around the separation, all the fussing and pulling and pushing and more, what we know from our experience is that it's also tough being present for your kids, remaining in the here and now.
One tip to help you try and do this is to think about the memories you'd like your kids to have about the summer holidays as they grow up, as they look back on in the years to come. Your co-parent may well not be on the same wavelength, but again don't let that stop you creating some magical memories for your kids during the time you have with them.
And importantly, this doesn't mean scraping together all your life savings and whipping them off to Disneyland. As we suggested above, it's more about working out from talking to your kids what it is they'd like to do, whether that's for the rest of today or in the next few weeks, and about taking what you pick up and running with it as best you can. Being there for them in every moment they open up to you, putting down the phone or switching off the TV to laugh with them, plan with them, hear about what's going on in their lives, this is how memories and more are formed.
See, the way we look at it, although in years to come your kids might remember experiences like holidays and trips away, what will resonate more with them, what will shape the type of people they become, is how they felt at the time, how present in the moment you were with them as they shared with you day after day of happiness and sadness.
Whether it's with your kids about what's in store for them in the coming weeks, or with your co-parent about the living arrangements and how best to make them work for the kids, communication is key.
For your kids, some arrangements you've made you might want to leave as a surprise, but again it's important for them to know about the amount of time they'll have with you and your co-parent, when that's going to happen. So telling them this in advance will help them with their plans about how to make the most of the summer. If they moan about any arrangements that have been agreed between their parents or ordered by the court, well, we know you're going to get sick of us repeating this but yeah, acknowledge how they feel, listen carefully to what they're really saying to you, and then work with them to ensure they're ok.
For your co-parent, if you'll be heading off somewhere, think about what positives might come from their knowing where you're going, when you'll be back, how you or the kids might contact them or the other way around. The same applies even if you're going nowhere with the kids, or if you or your co-parent are heading off during your respective time without the kids. If there's an open line of communication in place, an understanding that it won't be abused, just try and have a think about what that might say to the kids if they know they can share their experiences with their other parent whilst they're not with them, if they know you and your co-parent want to hear about how much fun they're having.
Again, your co-parent might not be on same page with this, and as such, what we're talking about might sound pretty unrealistic, but trust us, if you both commit to moving forward in mediation, this type of scenario could be within touching distance sooner than you might think.
five. it isn't about you
As a parent, separated or not you'll be aware that the separation isn't the be all and end all for your kids. They'll have their own worries, issues, hopes and dreams that have absolutely nothing to do with you and your co-parent.
If during the holidays they show to you that they'd benefit from time with their mates, time alone, doing or planning things that don't concern you, as long as you know they're safe and sensible you might want to give them the space to do that.
And being honest, even in the times you have them with you, you'll want time away from them to think, to relax, to plan and do things that don't concern your kids. You have a life of your own that needs to get living. Therefore, in as much as plans should be made to be together as a family, don't take it too personally if some of the time your kids would prefer to be normal elsewhere!
So we know it can be hard at this time of the year, heck at any time of the year after separation, but have in mind that you're not alone in all this. Connect with family and friends, get professional help if you feel you need it, and if you think mediation might help you move towards that constructive conversation you've been yearning for, give us a call.
Remember, if you apply all of this as best you can, you and your kids won't really care whether it's summer or winter. Enjoy!...