• Plan a pre-summer conference call with the other home to negotiate calendar and travel details. You can also communicate information to the other home to help them ease the transition for the children. For example, you might share new preferences and interests of the children so the other parent can plan their activities. Also, find out from the other home what special events they may have planned so you can inform your children and pack them accordingly. For example, they may need swimwear or hiking shoes for a vacation in the mountains. Finally, this meeting is a good time to agree to get the “other side of the story” should the children call to complain about their time in the other home.
  • Wish your children well. Giving permission to enjoy their time in the other home reduces loyalty conflicts and offers a much needed blessing that settles guilt feelings and fears. It also reminds your heart that their departure is not about you.
  • Manage your grief; don’t lay it on your children’s shoulders. Feeling sad as the children depart is normal and expected. Openly displaying your grief about missing them adds a burden of anxiety to children. They can easily worry about your well-being while away causing them confusion and guilt about enjoying their time in the other home. Share your tears and concerns with a spouse or friend, not the children.
  • Periodically stay in touch with your children. Today’s plethora of communication options easily allows you to stay connected with text messages, cell phones, email, and posting comments to their Facebook account. Take precaution not to intrude on the other home’s time or activities with excessive contact.
  • Manage your guilt. Some parents feel remorse for not being with the children, or for how the children feel while in the other home, or perhaps for how they are being treated by a family member. Don’t let your guilt feelings lead you to overreact or become controlling of the other home.
  • Stepparents may experience a range of emotions from sadness to relief. Missing the children is understandable. Pray for them while gone and look forward to their return. At the same time, should you feel relief don’t feel guilty for “enjoying a break” from stepparenting. Take advantage of the time to refresh and prepare yourself for their return.
  • If all the children are gone during the summer switch, take advantage of the time to invest in your marriage. Reconnect and spend some quality time together.
  • If after the switch you still have some children in your home, do something special with them; don’t reserve all your “fun” summer time only for when all the children are present. This may, also, be a good time for parents to build memories with an “ours” child.

An extended summertime visitation is a necessity of divided families. You can emotionally resist its reality, but you cannot prevent it. Whether sending or receiving the children try to think of the time as a fun, special opportunity—a “sleepover” instead of a change of residence. That attitude will trickle down to the child’s experience bringing blessing to everyone.

Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of blended family ministries for FamilyLife®, a popular conference speaker on marriage and family matters, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s and books for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily, The Remarriage Checkup (with David H. Olson), The Smart Stepmom (with Laura Petherbridge), The Smart Stepdad, and his latest Dating and the Single Parent. Learn more at www.smartstepfamilies.com.

Publication date: October 18, 2012