SUGGESTIONS for SUCCESSFUL SUMMER VISITATIONS
By Margorie Engel, PhD.
It's here - that summer season when families everywhere are supposed to be filled with joyous expectations! You're not? Well, the truth is that many too many custodial and non-custodial parents and stepparents are filled with dread while in the midst of making arrangements for the transfer of their children from one to the other and back again.
Sometimes all you really need are ideas and suggestions from those parents and children who have traveled this road ahead of you.
To help you avoid becoming a travel agent for guilt trips, here are suggestions for a more effective parenting relationship during the summer.
If You Are Parents in the Receiving Home...
Anxiety comes from not knowing what is going to happen. As far ahead as possible, volunteer information about your summer plans.
Provide to the Other Parent and Stepparent:
- A calendar of scheduled activities.
- Offer contact names and phone numbers if you're planning to be away from your home during the children's visit.
- Transportation options.
- Supply bus, train, and airplane schedules and policies regarding ages and schedules for length of trip, making connections, and travel at night. If driving, suggest pick-up and return times.
- List special clothing and gear needed for the planned summer activities.
- If children do not already have these items, be prepared to make the purchases yourself.
- Suggest a regular schedule for the absent parent to communicate with the children while they are visiting.
- Be prepared to negotiate any long distance phone expenses.
Provide a Packet of Information to the Children
- Map, city guide, and road atlas.
- Local bus and subway schedules.
- Places of interest.
- Cultural spots and where other kids hang out.
- Things to do: parks, recreation center, playground, baseball field, skating rink, bowling alley.
- Guided tours.
- Historical sights, children's museums.
- Commercial or homemade video tape of your surroundings.
- Including your home and neighborhood.
- Involve the children, and find out what they're interested in seeing and doing.
If You Are Parents in the Departing Home...
- Anticipation is a fun part of any trip. Be kind to your children and support their excitement.
With the Other Parent and Stepparent:
- Acknowledge travel plans and coordinate schedules.
- Be flexible. Even the best made plans are subject to last minute changes.
- Provide information about children's changes or new idiosyncrasies.
- Has your daughter "shot up" three more inches or traded her long tresses for a pixie cut? Will your little boy eat sandwiches if the crusts aren't cut off? Have any food allergies been diagnosed since the children's last visit?
- Provide contact information for reaching you.
- An emergency may occur while you are away from your home.
- If needed, arrange for the children's passports and prepaid international phone cards.
- Both parents will soon be required to sign a child's passport application. In the meantime, carry a notarized letter signed by both parents authorizing the international travel of their child.
- Prepare "Consent to Travel" document - contact SAA, 650 J Street, Suite 205, Lincoln, NE 68508, 1-800-735-0329 to purchase a copy of this form and others.
With the Children:
- Prepare for environmental changes.
- Use the provided packet of information for discussions about crossing time zones and major weather changes. Log onto the Internet, watch the weather channel, use the library to find travel books, play geography games.
- Make a written itinerary for the children and put it in their room.
- Provide a calendar so children can mark off days until the trip.
- Identify and prepare appropriate clothing for the trip.
- Prepare a check list of items being packed AND to be re-packed for the return trip:Medicine, medical information, copies of prescriptions; clothing and shoes; special treasures (photographs, blanket, pillow, toy); equipment, sports gear, activity-specific clothing; activity package for traveling time.
- Recipes for food allergies/likes/dislikes - suggest where special ingredients may be purchased, or include hard-to-find items.
- Luggage tags - Clearly identify departing and receiving household parents by name, address, and phone number. Put tag identifying where child is going outside the luggage. Put tags with information for both households inside the luggage.
- List of addresses and phone numbers for children to contact at agreed-upon times - parents, grandparents, friends.
- "Consent to Travel" documents.
- Children want to make the adults in their lives happy and they know they must disappoint someone because they can't be in two places at once. It is a gift of love to send your children off for the summer visit with a smile and wishes that they have a wonderful time.
- Assure your children that you will miss them and you have planned some special activities for yourself while they are gone. Remind the children that you will be talking with each other at specified times and can share longer stories about your separate vacations when they return.
When the Children Arrive In the Receiving Home
- Children are usually happy to have a snack and beverage as part of their quiet time to relax and "settle in."
- Let departure household know about safe arrival.
- Help children unpack.
- Identify room, bed, drawer, closet space, and towels to use.
- Update about any changes in household or activities since the last visit.
- Create the start of an arrival day ritual to communicate belonging-ness.
- Ritual examples are a favorite meal for dinner, popcorn and rental video for the entire family, sports activity, or viewing the scrapbook or video of the last family get-together.
- On day two, discuss or review household rules and expectations.
Helpful Things to Do During Visit
- Remind children to maintain contact with absent parent and make time for this to occur.
- Phone, e-mail, post cards.
- Plan neighborhood activities with other children.
- If the children are new to the group, a personalized name tee shirt helps other kids remember your child's name.
- Make a map of your neighborhood.
- Locate the Post Office, place of worship, shopping mall, and places of interest identified from the packet of information sent in preparation for the visit. Young children can learn the basics of getting around. Older children can write in their friend's names, phone numbers, and addresses for quick reference.
- Use the map to fill in neighbor's addresses and phone numbers.
- For emergencies and as a babysitter's guide.
- Visit the library and help the children get their own library cards.
- On a driving tour, scout out new "favorite" places in the community.
- Provide the materials to make a summer scrapbook. Scrapbook, disposable camera, scissors, glue, etc.
- In spite of media laments about weaker family ties, our children actually hold dual citizenship in two households.
After the adults work out some of the kinks, these children of divorce and remarriage move on to revise Robert Frost's definition:
"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in"
"Home is a place where, when you want to go there, they want to take you in."
If you're not sure this is true, listen to your children's words. They are "coming home" on Friday and "going back home" the following Sunday. And at each home, they are celebrating reunions.