When parents separate, the most common pattern of contact involves sharing care of children with the non-resident parent for alternate weekends and for half of the holidays. Although most parents accept that this arrangement is in the best interests of the children, it is not unusual to feel a sense of grief or loss when the holidays come around.
If you have day-to-day care of the children it is natural that you find it difficult to switch off from that role and relinquish responsibility for a longer period of time. Many parents experience FOMO – fear of missing out – particularly if the children are going on holiday or experiencing something exciting and new that they are not part of. This can take you by surprise, especially if you are keen for them to go, but it is also natural.
What can you do?
Sometimes it can help to take the rose-tinted glasses off and look at the situation for what it is. Holidays often mean long airport queues and endless hours of ‘are we nearly there yet’! Parenting is a tough job day-to-day and all the same challenges will be present during the shared time too.
Discuss Safety Concerns
Although it is important to respect your co-parent’s role and understand that their parenting style may be different from yours, it is normal to worry more when the children are going abroad. These anxieties commonly revolve around plane journeys, pool safety and stranger danger. The most successful way of co-parenting would be to arrange a conversation, in whatever way you and your former partner communicate best, to discuss these worries and find solutions.
Something as simple as a text message to let you know the children have arrived safely can be incredibly comforting. Discussing practical preparations for the children’s safety, such as increasing swimming lessons before the holiday or using arm bands, as well as having joint chats with the children about talking to strangers can also go a long way to address your concerns.
Take Time Out
Few people will dispute that parenting is the hardest job in the world. A resident parent is often juggling children, the household and work, which leaves little time for a social life. It can therefore be helpful to view this time as ‘annual leave’ from parenting. The time off will give you a chance to slow down, take a break yourself or go out for the evening without having to arrange childcare. It is essential to give yourself permission to take a break and recharge so you will be ready to give the children 100% when they return home.
Keeping busy is a great way to counteract your anxieties about time away from your children, so make the most of your time by planning ahead. Some parents find it helpful to produce a calendar of their ‘days off’ which they circulate to family and friends so they can organise an adult get together or book their holidays around it.
Have Your Own Adventures
Think about what you would like to do. It might sound like a cliché, but it is a good chance to try a new hobby and plan some day trips to places that would not interest your children.
If you are stuck for things to do and people to do it with, it is a good time to think about expanding your network. There are a number of lone parent groups, solo travel groups, forums (such as Mumsnet) and charities for lone parents (such as Gingerbread) that organise meet ups, day trips and holidays for other lone parents while the children are away.
Maintain Indirect Contact with the Children
One of the best ways of coping with this short term separation is to agree some indirect contact in advance. Arranging a planned Facetime, skype or phone call can be reassuring for everyone. We recommend that any calls are at agreed times so both parents can plan around it and, more importantly, the children do not feel let down hoping for calls that might not happen. Please remember, it is important that calls are not excessive or intrusive as that could make the non-resident parent feel like their time is being infringed upon or scrutinised.
Depending on the ages of your children they might also be able to email you, or your co-parent might agree to email an update with some pictures. Another non-invasive way of maintaining contact, would be for the children to send post cards, which can be as good for them as it is for you.
Indirect contact is easier to arrange if it is mutual and respectfully put in place for both parties, all year round. It is something that you can agree without a solicitor.
If it is difficult to do so, a mutual friend or family member might be able to facilitate a resolution. You might also consider mediation with a professional Mediator who will help you to reach an outcome.
However, if one parent has broached the subject a few times and not had a successful response, a letter from a solicitor can often help move things along in the right direction.
If a Child Arrangement Order is being made through the court, indirect contact during holidays can be included within the agreement, if it is in the best interests of the child to do so.
Make Your Own Memories
Whether your children are away for two weeks or two days, it can feel like a long time, but they will be back. You may feel like you missed out on lots of exciting adventures, but you will make your own great memories with them.