Coping with the summer holidays as a separated parent

For separated parents the summer holidays can be a logistical nightmare – how do you plan for that long summer break when the children are not at school?  In many separated families, both parents are working part-time or full-time and the cost of childcare and/or before-school and after-school clubs can be exorbitant – sometimes even cancelling out entirely the income a parent is earning.

There are so many positive things to be gained from a bit of advance thinking. For example, if you wish to take the children abroad for a holiday you are much more likely to be able to access cheaper fares if you can book well beforehand and take advantage of any ‘earlybird’ deals. Let’s face it, booking flights and trips in the school holidays is expensive enough without having to pay a premium for booking at the last minute! Also, the children will know what to expect and be able to look forward to the holidays without worrying that mum and dad will be tense and stressed because nothing has been agreed ahead of time.

The ideal way to share the holidays is for for each parent to take a turn in spending time with the children over the summer, and / or arranging for extended family to help out. But in reality, the separation often means that mum and dad simply can’t talk about the practicalities without it resulting in an unpleasant argument or endless misunderstandings. So much for that supposedly refreshing break for everyone over the summer!

However, there are some tips that we can suggest to make things easier.  As family mediators, we have been working with separated parents for over 30 years, assisting them to discuss and agree arrangements for their children. Here are some of the ideas that have helped them – we hope that they will help you too!

Talk – Communication is the key to a successful summer plan. If you and your ex are on speaking terms then it is really helpful if you can start to talk about the holidays as early as possible.

Meet – if a face-to-face meeting is possible, then you could arrange to get together at a local café with your diaries. Meeting in a neutral venue in a public place means that you are both more likely to behave in a civilised way. If each of you takes turns to suggest possible dates when you could have the children, you can negotiate a sensible timetable. The dates will often be dictated by your respective work commitments and / or the availability of extended family to help with childcare. If you do make some agreements, make sure you both write them down together at the same time to avoid any misunderstandings later. You could even follow it up with an email between you to confirm the arrangements.

Use phone, email or text – if a face-to-face meeting is not possible, then the next best options may be to communicate indirectly:

  • Phone call – if you are able to speak to your ex without the conversation getting out of hand
  • Email – if speaking on the phone is not possible or productive
  • Text – if it is easier than phone calls or email, but bear in mind that because texts are usually very short, there is scope for them to be misinterpreted by the recipient

Online calendar – it can be really helpful to set up an online calendar to which only you and your ex have access. This can be a useful way to show what arrangements have been made, and to mark important occasions such as birthdays, Christmas arrangements, family parties, school events, parent-teacher consultations etc. You could even agree that each of you uses a different colour when you add in a date so that you can see who has put in each event.