By Chris Oldner | Contributor
The greatest phrase in the English language to a school-aged child: School’s out for the summer! No more homework, no more going to bed early just to get up early, finally FREEDOM! For a single parent or blended family, however, the idyllic family summer some once enjoyed may end up a nightmare of scheduling conflicts and cross-purposes with an ex.
We all know that summer – and summer activities – waits for no one. Too often band camp, soccer games and swimming lessons conflict with your custody schedule. And just when there are no organized activities to work around, your teens or tweens want to spend time with friends or just play video games instead of spending quality time with their parent.
As children age, it is perfectly natural and healthy for them to want to spend more time on their own or with friends during their summer breaks. But for a parent who already must contend with a limited possession time, this natural assertion of independence can turn into a juggling act. On one hand, you want to recognize the need for a certain amount of independence. But on the other, you want to spend quality time before they fly the nest.
So how do we turn a potential nightmare into a summer dream?
Start with communication
While difficult for many of us, it is critical that we have open and honest communication with our teens. Schedule a quiet time and place to make plans for the time you have together. Have an open mind about what they want and what they need. Be flexible, but also be honest about what you want. Try to fit into your plans something they want to do, even including their friends for appropriate activities. Let them know how much they mean to you and always support and encourage them to have fun with their other parent. It is okay to let them know you miss them when they are gone, but do not make them feel guilty for being away from you.
If you have the right relationship, it may be helpful to invite the other parent to join in the conversation. A sit down with both parents to identify and work to find a mutual solution to scheduling issues can be beneficial but not if an argument or hurt feelings will result. As your children grow older, involving them in the decisions for summer scheduling can help them feel empowered; however, they cannot be placed in the middle of any conflict or made to feel as though they are choosing between their parents. Having a seat at the table where their voices are heard and valued will help reinforce the respect you have for your children, but you are the adult. The ultimate decision is yours.
Revisit Visitation Agreement
Sometimes these conversations lead you to realize that the current visitation arrangement simply no longer works for your family. Always remember that family court orders are not carved in stone. If there has been a material change in circumstances, you can revisit that agreement and figure out what works for you, your ex and your teenager. The assistance of an experienced attorney or mediator is crucial to this process. If you cannot agree on a resolution and find yourself heading to the courtroom, know that family court judges understand that agreed orders may have to change as children grow into teenagers.
In the end, what matters most is what is best for your child. Teenagers are figuring out their likes and dislikes, who they are and what they want to become in life. Parts of that journey cover rough terrain. There is no magic solution to make this easier for you or for your child. But having open and honest communication between all parties is crucial. Who knows, you may be able to turn a nightmare summer schedule into a summer dream.
Editor’s Note: Judge Chris Oldner is Of Counsel in the Family Law boutique Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP, assisting clients facing life-changing legal matters including divorce, child custody, parental rights, and property division. He served three terms as the presiding judge of the 416th District Court in Collin County. He is also the former presiding judge of Collin County Court at Law 5.