The Spring Break Shuffle: Your Co-Parenting Survival Guide

The Spring Break Shuffle: Your Co-Parenting Survival Guide

Spring break can be an especially stressful time for separated and blended families. It can present unique challenges as each family works to fulfill a separate set of schedules, vacations, budgets and expectations—but it can also be a great opportunity to strengthen relationships and make new family memories. Generally, kids look forward to spring break as it can be a much needed respite from daily routine.

To ease the tension and reduce the level of conflict this year, here are a few suggestions on how divorced or separated parents can survive the spring break shuffle and co-parenting challenge during the start of vacation season:  

Engage Your Kids with Positive Communication

Sometimes when school schedules shift, big questions can resurface. Be prepared for your children to ask, “Why?” all over again. When kids suddenly have free time, nagging fears and emotions can bubble to the surface once school, soccer practice, and regular routines no longer occupy their time. 

There’s no one “right way” to handle these conversations and questions because every family is different. Research suggests that kids tend to have the most difficulty when conflict between their parents makes them feel torn or caught in the middle, so it’s important to avoid making negative comments to or about the other parent when children are around. At the same time, you may be dealing with a lot, and it’s important that you find somewhere you can safely express your own feelings. 

The same research also indicates that it’s helpful to:

  • Give children enough information to lessen the uncertainty they may be feeling.
  • Listen and give children space to express themselves, but also give them space to quietly process what’s happening if that’s what they need.
  • Talk about these serious issues when doing an activity together like making a farm-fresh breakfast, or visiting your favorite frozen yogurt shop, or a local book store.
  • These kinds of conversations are often difficult, but they can also help build trust and strengthen relationships both now and in the future.

Plan Ahead and Keep Schedules Manageable:

Planning your vacation schedule in advance creates a smoother transition.  Established plans prevent disputes with the other parent and provide the opportunity to plan celebrations with extended family. Let your children know the schedule in advance to set expectations, prevent disappointment, and build anticipation for new family memories.

Make New Spring Break Memories

If this is your first spring break after a separation, it may mean breaking with certain trips or traditions. Whether you’ve always gone to the coast, visited relatives out of town, or hosted the annual spring break neighborhood get-together, finding new, meaningful ways to be together is sometimes more important than creating the “perfect” spring break experience.

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Plan ahead to avoid conflict over dates of events and vacations (it can help to start with a schedule for when children will be with each parent).
  • Find out what activities are important to your kids and see if you’re able to prioritize some of the items on their wish list.
  • If hired childcare is part of your plans, make sure both parents know who is taking responsibility for organizing them.
  • Be flexible and try to accommodate your co-parent’s plans and wishes, knowing that it may lead to reciprocation in the future. Be as mindful of their time as much as possible to make for a smoother, easier transition into the spring/summer vacation season for you and your kids. 

Give Your Children Some Extra Love and Attention

The brevity of the spring break season, on top of your other daily responsibilities, can make it hard to get as much quality time with your kids as you want. When you do spend time together, try to be present with your full attention on your children. Show interest in their activities, hobbies, and even the time they spend with the other parent. 

Co-parenting for many people means sharing the school holiday schedule. While this may seem challenging, try to remain positive. This week can also be a wonderful time to break free of your normal routine, rest, and perhaps create some great, new memories with your kids that they’ll remember forever. Take the opportunity to try something new, maybe get out of town, or try a new neighborhood activity. Your children will love the adventure and the excitement it may bring.

Give Yourself Some Extra Love and Attention

Making time for yourself is also a great way to lessen spring break stress. It could be as simple as 10 minutes of alone time with a good book or podcast or as involved as a getaway with friends on a weekend, when the other parent has the children. Here are a few other relaxing, self-care activities to consider:

  • Meditate (try a meditation app if you’re new to it and not sure how to start)
  • Go for a walk or run
  • Prepare a nutritious meal for yourself
  • Schedule a massage 
  • Pick up a new book or podcast
  • Get back into an old favorite hobby or learn something new
  • Spend time with friends, family, or others in your support system

Successful co-parenting requires flexibility above all else. Look at this time as an opportunity to demonstrate your desire to provide the best possible family experience for your kids. 

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Tiffany J. Jensen is a Vancouver mom of two, and a family law attorney at Gevurtz Menashe. She is a member of the Washington State Bar and focuses her practice exclusively on family law issues including divorce, child support, and custody and parenting issues. If you have questions about co-parenting laws, how to negotiate parenting time, or other co-parenting issues, give her a call—she can help!

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