Summer is on the horizon, and it’s time to start thinking about vacation plans. If you’re like most solo parents who share parenting time with an ex, not only do you have to carve out time from work in order to make this happen, but you also have to worry about blending your vacation schedule with your ex’s. It’s a balancing act.
In addition, vacations can be stressful for the parent staying home while their child is off experiencing new things. What are they doing right now? Is my child having a good time? Is my child safe? I wish I could experience that with my kids too. I could never afford to take my kids there on my own. These are just a few of the nagging thoughts that can run through parents’ minds. I know my own daughter is never far from my mind when she’s on vacation with her dad.
The Best of Both Worlds
What if there was a way to take away some of that stress? To create some joint vacation time so neither parent misses out on big experiences, or to help ease the financial burden of a big trip?
Going on a vacation with your ex-spouse will allow you to have the best of both worlds—a fun-filled vacation with your child, for which you don’t have to entirely foot the bill. And it’s an opportunity to show your child that you and your ex love her enough to put some differences aside and take the trip together. Or, at the very least, at the same time.
Taking a vacation together can be a risky proposition if you and your ex don’t have a good relationship. It’s vital that you are “far enough away from the divorce that things won’t irritate you that irritated you in the marriage,” offers Judy Rabinor, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and relationship expert. If you had a difficult divorce, and you’re still harboring hurt feelings, it’s best to wait for the dust to settle a while longer.
Taking the Plunge
If you’re ready to take the plunge, a joint vacation is a great way to present a new way for how we “do” divorce to your kids (and, indeed, society at large). “It’s easy to picture exes in custody battles and less so on vacation together with their kids. By setting an example, you give kids the opportunity to see a new model and to understand that just because it’s not the norm, doesn’t mean it’s not doable,” says April Masini, a relationship expert and author.
But how to you approach the subject of vacationing together to your kids? For young children under age 7, it can be confusing, says Robin M. Deutsch, Ph.D., director of the Center of Excellence for Children, Families and the Law at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (becoming William James College). “But if there’s already a history of doing things together, it’s okay. The important thing is to be consistent with your children, letting them know that you’re friends, but you are never going to live together again.” In short, be clear that a joint vacation is a great way to spend time together, but it is not the beginning of you and your ex getting back together.
Rabinor agrees that when parents already have a good relationship, it makes a shared vacation a bit easier. “Joint vacationing doesn’t come out of thin air. It evolves from a process where parents can spend time together,” she says. “Build upon being able to celebrate small things together first.” This includes sharing birthday parties and athletic victories.
Set Ground Rules
To make your joint vacation less stressful, Masini suggests setting some ground rules and expectations well ahead of the actual vacation.
For starters, decide in advance whether new spouses or significant others are invited, what the sleeping arrangements will be, and who pays for what. “Money is a big source of contention between exes, so set up the budget ahead of time, as well as the responsibilities, and save yourselves financial tension,” she says.
Determining where you will vacation is a big factor, according to Masini. “That means no bunking at ex in-laws, and don’t venture into territory where you once had a romantic tryst or a honeymoon with an ex. Ideally, choose places you’ve never been before, so as not to stir up old emotions that might upset the new dynamic.”
And, of course, it’s important for each parent to carve out time alone with the child. After all, you’re on vacation to spend quality time together. If you’re new to trying a joint vacation, try going to the same location, but only overlapping the time by a day or two. This will help both you and your ex warm up to the idea and test it out for size while you and your ex—individually—have quality time to experience new things with your child.
I broached this topic with my ex recently, as I was researching for this article. I honestly never would have considered going on vacation with him before, and I was interested in what he thought. When I asked his opinion, he scoffed. After all, he’d be doing me a favor—he can afford an over-the-top trip to Hawaii next summer; I can’t.
As we talked about it a bit more, and I explained that we could overlap a day or two so we wouldn’t have to spend the entire vacation together, he softened. “It’s not something I’ve ever thought of,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.” I’ll take that as a step in the right direction. Even if we don’t end up going on vacation together, just talking about it opened up a level of communication we haven’t had since before our divorce—definitely a good venture into new territory.