By Diane C. Dierks, LMFT, CFLE
Unless single parents are teachers and have the summers off, they usually dread the summer months. It can be difficult to juggle work schedules, child care, and camps for the kids while comparing vacation calendars with the other parent and still finding time and money to enjoy yourself. Here are a few pointers to make planning a little simpler and less of a headache:
Follow the court order, if you have one.
If you are co-parenting with the other parent, you probably have a court order that was part of your divorce decree or legitimation document that outlines how summertime schedules are to be handled. Follow this first! If it says that you are to split the summer schedule with the other parent, does it give specific weeks or say you must talk about your choice of weeks by a certain date (May 1 each year, for example)? Whatever it says, be sure to follow it, so you are in compliance with the order, unless you and the other parent can agree otherwise. If you make another agreement outside of the court order, you may want to consider putting it in writing just to be sure there are no misunderstandings.
Schedule a meeting with the other parent.
Even if you have a court order in place, chances are you will still need to discuss details with the other parent in order to finalize plans. “The best thing to do is plan everything out ahead of time,” said single mom Laura Kaplan of Baton Rouge. “It just makes everything so much easier to have a set schedule that everyone must stick to.” Instead of sending texts and e-mails that tend to be impersonal and spontaneous, schedule a phone or face-to-face meeting with the other parent to talk about the summertime schedule. Set the meeting up at least a week in advance so that you both have the chance to look over your calendars and consult with your employer, respective spouses, child care providers, etc. This way, when the meeting time comes, you are both prepared to talk about it in detail.
Investigate childcare options.
You may have to do this before your meeting with the other parent or, depending on your court ordered arrangement, it may be more practical to wait until you finalize with him or her regarding which weeks you will be responsible for child care. Every situation is a little bit different. In most cities, there are a variety of day camps available that give kids of all ages educational experiences in a fun and active way. Call your local parks and recreation department or parish extension office to start, as those associated with city or parish programs tend to be low cost. Also, check out Boys and Girls Clubs of America in your area for childcare options, especially for older children. You may want to hire a responsible teenager or college student to provide childcare in your home for the summer days when camps are not available, but check their references thoroughly to be sure they are reliable before going that route.
Plan vacation time with your kids.
Don’t forget to make vacation plans with the kids, even if it can only be for a weekend or in the evenings. Summertime is a magical period for children. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but regardless of how stressed you are financially and emotionally, your kids are only this age for a very short time and you are building memories with them that will last a lifetime. They won’t care that you didn’t go to Hawaii for two weeks, but they will definitely remember that weekend camping trip you took in the mountains where you roasted hotdogs all weekend or the week when every night after work, you went to the movies, the ice cream shop or a local concert. Elizabeth Hall of Walker said, “Being a single mom means I am the only income and therefore must work, in some form, all summer. My children are three and six and will probably spend most of the summer at daycare. We try to squeeze in activities—the Free Movies, parks and playgrounds, library visits, bookstore activities, etc.” If you’re in a similar situation, try Elizabeth’s strategy. Sit down with your kids and plan a week or two of special events or a weekend trip to a local venue. Laura says she checks websites like www.macaronikid.com every day to learn about budget-friendly activities for her daughter. Make a big deal of these local fun days and your kids will get excited about it, especially if they get to help in the planning!
Don’t forget a vacation for yourself.
Finally, be sure to schedule some time for yourself when you don’t have the kids with you. Plan a weekend away, buy tickets to see your favorite band or, if you are totally broke, drive to different parks in your area and picnic with a friend. Hang out at a lake or stream near you and learn to fish, canoe or bird watch. There are endless ideas if you simply look for them. Summer is a great time to get away from the day-to-day stresses of life, enjoy warm weather and connect with friends or family. Being a single parent is a stressful full-time job on top of the one you probably already have. Planning time for yourself away from the kids is as vital as vacation time away from your other job. Take it!