Most years, families anxiously await the start of summer each year. When children return to school after spring break, the countdown is on! Parents look forward to less chaotic schedules. Children look forward to playing outside until sundown — and everyone looks forward to their family’s summer vacation.
Now that we’re more than halfway through 2020, I think most would agree that this has been a year unlike any other. Summer is proving to be no exception. Children have been home for several months now. and parents are faced with several more months of them at home — and that’s assuming schools reopen to start the 2020-2021 school year. For parents who share custody of their children across two households, this summer will present a whole new set of challenges. How can you overcome these obstacles to a smooth-sailing summer? Communicate and, whenever you can, show grace.
1. What can you do if the regular co-parenting schedule isn’t working?
As state rules continue to evolve and depending on the health concerns of each household, some parents may continue working from home whether by choice or mandate. Slight changes to the regular co-parenting schedule can allow parents to successfully work from home or, in other cases, allow them to transition back into the workplace as businesses reopen. If one parent has video conferences scheduled on a day they are supposed to have the children, consider swapping days. This way, both parents can focus on work when they must, then enjoy their time with the children. Let’s be honest – your days will be a lot more enjoyable if you don’t have to mute your video conference to break up an argument between your screaming children over whose turn it is to play video games.
2. What can you do if you no longer have childcare?
For many working parents, summer camps provide their childcare when school lets out. Parents must often register children for camps months in advance. Now, some camps are choosing not to open at all, leaving parents scrambling to find substitute childcare. Other camps are opening, but parents worry whether it is safe to send their children. Depending on your custody arrangement, childcare may be a decision that requires both parents to agree. It is also a decision that, in most cases, has a financial impact on at least one parent. Think creatively about your options. For example, although it may not be ideal, some parents are agreeing to allow their children to spend time visiting extended family. In certain cases, this may even mean giving up some of your own parenting time. The reality is you may not have other suitable options. If your children are safe and happy, this could be a sacrifice you’re willing to make to get through this uncertain time.
3. What can you do about your vacation?
Travel plans have been turned upside down, but for parents who have a custody order or agreement, they’re probably required to select their “vacation weeks” by a certain date. If parents selected their weeks months ago, there is a good chance those plans have been affected. If parents did not select weeks, but now want to take a vacation with their children, they may have missed the required window of time to confirm plans. Some parents are objecting to this short notice, but none of us could have anticipated the effects of COVID-19. The only way to resolve this issue quickly enough for the trip to happen is for co-parents to work together. Assuming the trip will not jeopardize your children’s safety, think about the benefits. Not only are your children sure to be excited, but they will also probably benefit from the normalcy of a family vacation. While you’re at it, consider responding by requesting your own vacation.
4. What now?
As states begin to lift stay-at-home orders and restrictions, not everyone agrees about what we should do now. Some parents and children are considered high-risk. A parent who is high-risk may insist on their children wearing masks in public, maybe working remotely, and maybe limiting exposure to anyone outside of their household. The other parent may feel comfortable eating at restaurants, spending time with friends, and traveling to visit extended family. Co-parents should openly discuss any concerns they have and, whenever possible, find common ground regarding the continued precautions they will take for the benefit of their children. Some of these precautions can even be taken with very little impact on your day-to-day life.
Co-parents and the attorneys who represent them are facing issues that have never been dealt with before. To further complicate matters, it is nearly impossible to get before a judge. Even as courts reopen, judges are struggling to work through the backlog created by the postponement of hearings over the past several months.
Therefore, the need for co-parents to communicate — and show grace — is greater now more than ever. Communicate regularly, clearly, and productively. Be flexible where you can. As the summer of 2020 continues to challenge us all, this is your best chance at making the most of this time with your children!