I recently discovered that many mothers and fathers actually dread summer for the mere fact that, without the structure of school for their children, they are left to fend for themselves. They have to either find childcare or camp while they are at work - which can be very expensive - or be at home with their kids all day long - a stark contrast to the respite they enjoyed most weekdays September through June.
Divorcing mothers and fathers have the additional challenge of having half of all the resources they once had and, more often than not, the added complication of shared custody. Everything about summer is more difficult.
For George, a father of two girls ages six and eight, there was an even more challenging layer in that he was self-employed as an Insurance Broker and worked from home.
He said that his soon-to-be-ex wife, Marilyn, often assumed that he could (and should) take on the bulk of the responsibilities of childcare because, in her eyes, "he was his own boss and could work any time." Yes, on the one hand his schedule was more flexible than hers, but on the other, he had to maintain a certain structure if he was going to earn any money. He had calls to make, research to do and deadlines to meet - tasks that Marilyn assumed he had more control over than he really did.
This had often been a conflict for them in their marriage so it made sense that it would be highlighted in their marital separation.
Because George and Marilyn mediated their case, they were actually able to address this concern and come to some agreements about what was realistic with what he could and couldn't do as well as what she needed to do to be an equal co-parenting partner.
Like most co-parenting couples, George and Marilyn had to constantly renegotiate but they definitely had a better experience once the ground rules were put into place.
On the other hand, exes who can't get along at all are fearing for the worst -- and understandably so.
Make Your Plans Early
One of the keys to reducing anxiety about what to do is to get plans in place as soon as possible, be it camp, summer school or a trip to Aunt Betty's. Again, this is often easier said than done -- especially when mother and father are working at odds.
Shari, a mother of three boys, told me that her husband purposely waited until she set up camp to decide when he would take his vacation. While most might think this makes sense, what this sneaky ex did was to plan his vacation the same week the kids had camp!
Not only did he not have to take them anywhere, but Shari was going to foot half the bill for this "babysitting" during his time off since the marital settlement agreement stated that all extra curricular programs would be split 50/50 between them.
Needless to say, Shari was not happy with this notion and, because she made her plans early enough, she was able to negotiate an agreement where she didn't pay for the camp.
There is always the option to pull stunts like this but, parents, please remember that your kids see what you're doing and it doesn't exactly make them feel good when they find out you are going out of your way to NOT have to take them on a trip.
Here are some additional pointers when making your plans:
1) Ask divorced friends, family and neighbors who have been through summers like this for help and ideas. You'd be amazed at how creative people can be.
For example, in one San Francisco neighborhood, a mother who home-schooled her children during the year offered to provide a recreational (and educational) program for all the kids in the neighborhood at a fee much lower than the average camp. This was a win-win-win since she made some extra money for work she would already be doing, the kids had a great time and the parents were at ease knowing their children were in good hands.
2) Don't be too proud to ask for hardship scholarships. Money is tight for many people given the economy and many summer programs are expensive (those I saw ranged anywhere from $76 per week to over $2,000 per week!).
If you can afford a program, that's one thing, but if it's out of your reach, ask for some financial assistance. Most programs have at least a few reduced fee spots.
3) You may have to shift financial priorities temporarily for the summer and use money you might have been putting into extras like movies, weekend activities or clothing into camp. Many places such as gyms will allow you to put memberships on hold for a short time without having to pay (Just be SURE they are not charging you!)
4) If you are in fairly dire financial straits and you have debt, you may ask your credit card holders for a moratorium during the summer months. Some companies will be more understanding and flexible than others, but most will work with you if you have been consistently paying the minimum balance due on your debt.
5) Check local city or county resources as well to find out if there are any programs they sponsor that are free or low fee.
In researching camps out there, I found a wide variety of experiences kids can have. In New York and Los Angeles, for example, there were numerous modeling and/or acting camps. Many areas of the country had sports camps, outdoor education, tourism & travel, other creative outlets (such as music and art), as well as traditional summer school programs.
A helpful website in locating these camps was: www.mysummercamps.com