Although the weather might have us believe anything but, summer is in full swing. For thousands of separated families, this means children will be dividing their time between two parents during the school holidays. In some cases this is an informal or flexible arrangement, for others the routine is set in stone (or perhaps a court order).
2021 is my seventh summer as a separated (divorced) parent. A lot has changed in that time, not least my children. We have an arrangement that not only works for us, but now seems ‘normal’. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt.
Holidays and term-time routines can be different
Our family has a term time routine and a holiday routine. We’re not unusual in this regard. Various factors can influence how your children divide their time: jobs, geography, school commitments and so on. Even if you do not have a 50/50 arrangement in term-time, 50/50 can work really well for holidays.
We’re a family who loves to travel and as such it’s always been important to me to have at least two weeks to take the children away. Splitting the summer holidays in half means this is guaranteed, but I recommend all families have a ring-fenced fortnight for each parent.
In theory we take in in turns to have first dibs year on year which allows for priority booking, personal preference and key events e.g. family parties. I love the predictability of this routine and the fact it minimises the need for conversations, and allows forward planning. Some families have a one week on/one week off arrangement that continues into the holidays. It’s pretty common for each parent to have at least two weeks with their children, including in a court-ordered situation but this up to you (and your ex).
On missing your children
When my children were still young, I dreaded their time away. There were a few reasons for this, including missing them like crazy. I missed them and I wanted to be part of their new adventures. They were young: it was unfamiliar, and I spent those weeks feeling like I’d lost a limb. However, I also had a lot to organise on the ‘divorce and separation’ front and so time away from them was useful for practical purposes, but still I found myself counting down the days to their return (sometimes starting before they’d even left!). Now they’re older, and and now this routine is normal for them it’s not so hard to bear. I miss them: of course I do, but not like I did in those first years. So, if you’re suffering your first summer away from your children away you can feel optimistic that it will get easier. Like many things, the first time is often the hardest, and often harder for you than your children.
Summer holidays present challenges and opportunities. It’s not all about holidays, of course: some children will need to be in childcare or being looked after by grandparents: dividing the holidays equally means this responsibility (and perhaps the cost) can be shared. Children will begin to have their own commitments that need to be considered as they grow up – sports training, choir, orchestra, friends, holiday jobs and work experience, for example.
Travelling as a single parent
Travelling as a single parent may feel daunting or it could feel like an adventure. It’s normal to feel nervous, but don’t let that stop you! There are so many options to travel with friends or groups if you’re worried about doing things on your own for the first time, or simply hoping for some adult company. Single mums are great at getting together to take their children on trips, and children often love being with other children too. Facebook is full of inspiring travel groups to encourage you. Over the years, we’ve had road trips and city breaks, camping trips and arty activity clubs; time with family and weeks on the beach. My children have just as happy memories from camping in the Hebrides as they do from a trip to Florida: it’s less about budget and more about fostering a sense of adventure and spending quality time with your children, while showing them the world.
Travelling as a single parent WITHOUT your children
This is (was) one of my favourite things to do. The pandemic has changed this a bit, but I have found opportunities to camp on Northumberland beaches, stay in a friend’s apartment in Ljubljana; visit friends in Sussex while studying in London and more (subject of another post…?). Most of these things would not have happened while I was married so I have relished every opportunity. If travel is not your thing, like many single parents you will find many ways to fill your time. From catching up at work to catching up with sleep; starting a new project or completing a qualification; going on dates or spending more time at the gym – the opportunities are endless.
Single parenthood can be exhausting and it’s great to have a proper break. Plus, time flies and no matter how much you’re missing your children, they WILL be back soon.
I know that becoming a separated parent can be tough. It can be difficult making decisions and adjusting to change. You may want to find ways to manage your children’s absence or plan a conversation with your ex about holiday time. If you’d like to talk to someone who’s been through it, who will listen to your side of the story and help you find ways to make it easier, let’s talk.