Do do do do do do do….

There are lots of ‘top tips’ where the school summer holidays are concerned.  I have written plenty myself over the years.  In my recent work as a mediator and Parenting Coordinator I’ve been thinking a lot about what it might feel like in the children’s shoes.  So, I’ve tried to come up with some new and, dare I say it, more radical tips and suggestions:

  • Think about the long summer holiday as a whole; do the children need a bit of downtime when they first break up, before setting off on adventures with each of you?  Do you need to leave a bit of space at the other end for uniform and shoe shopping??
  • Don’t be difficult on dates; sometimes schools do annoyingly break up on a Monday, messing up all your weekly planning.  Sometimes it just isn’t practical to divide all the days up absolutely equally.  Focus on making things work practically.
  • Avoid back-to-back trips?  Will the children enjoy a week or two away with one parent followed immediately by the same with the other parent?  Travel is hugely enjoyable but it’s also very draining (remember it often starts and ends with airports which can be boring or stressful). What about tiredness and jetlag? How does washing get done??
  • Don’t compete with each other on holidays.  Focus on what works best for your children and the time they have with each of you.  If you can, parents might talk to each other in advance about plans – to avoid any nasty surprises.  (Same principle applies to present buying etc.)
  • Passports, GHICs, insurance etc – be clear about who has these and when they get passed over.  Don’t play games with important stuff.
  • Leave space for things the children want to do; sports and other activities, festivals and camps, hang out with their friends.  It is their time off from school.  Listen to their ideas.  Children sometimes share with me that they missed out on stuff they really wanted to do because parental plans trumped all.  Be flexible if you can.
  • What about holiday costs?  If additional childcare is needed, or the cost of activities is adding up – can you both help with these?
  • Think about special days that might happen during the summer e.g. birthdays, bank holiday events.  Don’t assume, and don’t try and be strategic by always going for these weeks.
  • Be realistic.  What are you own commitments (including work and your own rest and wellbeing)?  What are your limitations (including financial)?  Work together, not against each other. (I’m sure that there are some laws of physics to be quoted here, she says not confidently, digging deep in distant school memories!)
  • Try and have a basic pattern you work from year on year and then fill in the specifics.  For example, do you both want to go away early in the school holidays?  Then agree to alternate; in an odd year one of you has those weeks and in an even year the other does.
  • Enjoy your time off but don’t exclude the other parent.  Be thoughtful; message them to confirm safe arrival at your destination.  Be clear in advance when and how the children will check in with the parent back home, including video calls etc.  There is no right and wrong on this.  Some parents want to be able to have more of a break, some parents want to be in touch throughout.  It is for parents to sort out though, children shouldn’t be worried about whether they can call or not.  Similarly, be clear about what’s okay to share (photos, what you have been up to) – nothing worse than seeing children squirm as they try to work out what the rules are.
  • Don’t judge or punish each other.  Sometimes delays happen.  Sometimes kids fall over or get ill.  Share information promptly and courteously and trust each other to do the best possible in these situations.

So, there you go.  It can feel like a massive planning task and the summer holidays have all sorts of challenges.  Don’t add a battle with your ex to that list.  Maybe some of these tips come a bit late for this summer but, if the emotional temperature starts to rise – take a breath. Count backwards from 5 before saying or doing anything (especially in the children’s presence).  And if you have longer to reflect before responding, ask yourself whether what’s in discussion will really matter come September.

Happy holidays.