This article was originally published in the Hudson Hub Times.
I can remember the summers from my childhood. They seemed endless. Long days of sunshine, friends and family vacations made this time special. School, lessons and sports were all put on hold until after Labor Day.
Sadly, some children never get to experience this special time of their lives due to the conflict between their parents. As a veteran magistrate at the Summit County Domestic Relations Court, I see families arguing over what weeks they will spend with their children. I have had trials over the Fourth of July weekend alone. I’ve had parents both pay deposits on high end vacations during the same week and request that the court interview the children to determine their wishes. I’ve ruled on emergency motions for Disney World vacations.
We see good people who are going through difficult times at the domestic relations court. However, sometimes the stress of co-parenting with a difficult personality clouds the ability to make the right choices — even choices that involve our children.
I remember a case where the father was to provide the transportation for summer parenting time. The agreed order did not specify where the transportation was to be “to and from” so the mother decided to travel out of town each day before the father was to enjoy his time. As one can imagine, this caused severe conflict between these parents.
Another case involved a father who would sign the kids up for overnight camps during the mother’s parenting time, causing the children to resent their mother when she refused to give up the few weeks that she was able to spend with the children. These tactics caused constant summer litigation between the parties.
Simply put, high conflict and litigation is bad for kids. We know that children from high conflict homes have much greater chances to suffer from anxiety, depression, low self- esteem, and often grow up to have negative feelings about both of their parents. We also know that children from high conflict homes turn to drugs, alcohol and promiscuity at a higher rate than children who grow up in a peaceful setting.
Kids enjoy unstructured time with each parent. Summer is a time they can spend extended time with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. They can sleep in and not have the rushing around that happens during the school year. The kids who come in to speak to the court just want to have fun time with each parent. They know when their parents play games with the time. They can’t stand when their parents fight over time, whether it is summer vacation or holidays. The fact is parents will only get so much time with their children before the children are teens, and involved in activities and employment. It’s important for everyone’s sake, that parents work together to ensure a happy restful summer for each child.
I have a few tips on how to reduce conflict with summer parenting time.
1) Choose your battles. It is not a good idea to fight with your co-parent just to prove a point. Your kids are watching and it is important that they have one parent who puts their needs first. Your kids will appreciate this later.
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2) Just stick to the schedule. It is not worth saving a few dollars on airfare, or attending a function with your kids if trying to change the schedule with your co-parent will case a family war. Kids want to be happy, especially in the summer.
3) Plan far in advance for out of town travel. Both parents should have a mechanism in their order where they are trading vacation schedules by at least May 1 of each year.
4) Stay child focused. Really try to enjoy the summer parenting time that you have with your kids. We have all heard the saying that “they grow up fast.”
We have a significant number of cases in the summer that deal with schedule changes and contempt. If parents are truly having a hard time with the summer schedule, they can ask for an Informal mediation to assist them is resolving the issues peacefully. They can find the form online, at www.drcourt.org. It only takes a few weeks to schedule and it’s free! Remember — your kids just want to enjoy their time off with family and friends. I hope that all of us out there that have two household families make a resolution to enjoy our time with our kids. They do grow up fast.
Photo credit: Olga Lednichenko on flickr under creative commons.