What are your first feelings when you think about vacations after divorce?
Are you excited and enthusiastic? Or do you have a heartful of sadness, anxiety and fear? For me, I was devastated that our family vacation traditions were all messed up, and I wondered if I could afford to go on any kind of vacation at all after divorce.
Divorce in midlife changes almost everything we do — including family vacations and our own after divorce vacation time. Before divorce, vacations were usually a highlight of our year. We looked forward to time together away from our normal day-to-day activity.
After divorce, we have new concerns about vacations:
- Reduced financial resources
- Two separate vacation schedules
- The loss of family traditions
Pre divorce, we probably had a certain vacation budget. That may now be much less, especially for moms. After divorce, summer traditions that have always been precious for all of us, are either gone or greatly changed. For example, we might have always gone to the lake or the mountains, or to visit family in another state.
Now, after divorce, the kids may be joining their Dad and his new woman for vacations. She may be going to the lake house (that you helped pay for and decorate!) One RADiCAL woman said, “I’m both furious and devastated that the other woman is at the lake in my house with my children, while I can barely afford to join the local neighborhood pool.”
Those first vacations after divorce can be agonizing. To avoid that, my first Thanksgiving with the kids after divorce, I decided to do something completely out of the box for us! Instead of our traditional turkey-in-the-oven-Thanksgiving day, I made dinner reservations at a famous seafood restaurant in Kansas City. After a wonderful dinner, we went to a crazy not-Thanksgiving-like-at-all movie called “Being John Malkovich.” We had a great, easy, fun totally different time together. It felt like a big victory!
You can use the same strategy for summer vacations after divorce. Use your imagination! Do something completely out of the ordinary. Make it a fun adventure. If it ends up being a disaster, you and your kids will have funny things to talk about in the future.
The kids will be relieved that you aren’t sad. They will also be glad that you are willing to do something a little crazy and unexpected. This flexibility will teach them that, yes, life is going to change, but we can still have fun even though we are going to have to make adjustments to our lives. Vacations may be different, but they can still be great because we are all together, and we can make them great!
Here are some of helpful rules for vacations after divorce…
Take the stress out of family vacations after divorce.
Vacations are supposed to be for having fun, resting and relaxing. Don’t make it a nerve-wracking chore because you’re trying too hard to make your “after-the-divorce” vacation fun! That’s too much pressure for everyone. Being together will be enough.
Don’t over-extend yourself financially on vacations after divorce
As divorced moms, we’re sometimes worried about trying to keep up with our ex-husband who is often turning into Super DisneyLand Dad! He’s being “The Fun Guy,” and sometimes we end feeling like “The Enforcer” who has to deal with the financial realities of our new life.
Focus on the positive — not the negative — during vacations after divorce
Most of all, kids need a calm, fun, warm and nourishing time together. If we are constantly complaining about things we can’t change, that takes the joy out of what should be a time of refreshment and renewal for all of us.
Vacationing With The Kids: Planning Is Key
One thing that causes children angst after divorce is feeling out of control. They need to be involved in as many decisions as they can, while keeping in mind that they sometimes have to do things they don’t particularly want to do.
It’s important that kids be in the loop as early as possible about what the vacation and holiday plans are. They need to be able to get that in their head and come to grips with it with as much forewarning as possible.
Once divorce enters our life, vacations become much more complicated. If we have children, especially school-aged children, make sure your vacation and holiday schedules are part of the divorce decree – in writing. Do not leave it to your memory, or your ex’s good heart, or to random choices.
Not having our kids on a certain holiday or vacation time can bring tears and a feeling of loneliness that is hard to express. The truth is, we have to finally realize that we can always celebrate on a different day. We can celebrate with just as much joy on December 27 as we can on December 25.
Special days (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, each parent’s birthday) require alterations in custody schedules – especially if these days fall during vacation weeks. We may not always be able to have the children on our particular special days, so we have to learn to adjust in ways that make the children feel comfortable, and not guilty or sad.
What kids want is for us to be calm and happy and optimistic in spite of the divorce. For those first vacations after divorce, that usually takes some courage and acting on our part. It is okay for our kids know that this transition is new and difficult for all of us. They also need to know that we are all going to find fun, new ways of doing things.
Big school holiday breaks should switch every other year. If you have Spring Break one year, the other parent should have it the next. Or you should split the holiday up, but that sometimes involves too much slogging back and forth and makes the holiday stressful instead of peaceful.
Try to be flexible with summer vacation times. Both parents should be able to have a full week of time with the kids. Be flexible on important family dates, too. For example if there is a big family wedding or a funeral, try to accommodate those unexpected family occasions.
Of course, the older your children are, the more freedom they will have to make their own decisions about vacations and everything else. They may want some time that doesn’t include either parent like going to band camp or going on a youth group mission trip. Those are good outlets for your kids, and it helps them stay involved in their own activities and not bogged down in the drama and trauma of the divorce.
Keep Communication Open
Make sure your kids can keep in touch with the other parent during vacation time. Be generous, but don’t allow so much contact that it disrupts your vacation time. Be sensitive to that when your ex has the kids as well.
During midlife divorce, let your children talk about what they want during summer vacation time. Come to a decision together. Give them some possible destinations that are in your budget. If there is in impasse, draw the winning suggestion out of a hat. Also, it gives kids security to know that you, as the parent, will be making the final decisions.
Share Trip Plans
Just as kids need advance warning with regard to vacation details after divorce, our ex needs a heads up as early as possible as well. Be flexible if some trips have to be taken during specific time frames. For example, our family used to do Biking Across Kansas as part of our summer vacation time together. It is always the first full week in June, so plan far enough ahead if you are planning something with a specified date.
Vacationing Alone: Taking Advantage Of Independence
Now, let’s talk about what we, as divorced women, are “supposed” to do while the kids are on vacation with the other parent. Remember, you have little control over what happens at the other parent’s house or on his vacations. But you can create some special time for yourself while they are away.
Get the book, Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach. It’s the journal of a woman, recovering from a broken romance, who travels alone around the world rediscovering herself along the way. She obviously has more money than most of us, but we can go on a similar journey of discovery on a much more limited budget. She reminds us to be aware of “the precious ticking moment.”
Vacation As Therapy
Think of your time without your kids as a time for a spa-like relaxing therapy time for you. Especially early on, after divorce, you need some rejuvenation time to focus on you. Take advantage of the time you have without the kids. Relax. Regroup. Recharge. Get with friends or practice the skill of actually learning to enjoy your own company.
Where To Go?
Get some travel folders or go online and look up destination vacations. Take a look at Backroads: The World’s #1 Active Travel Company. They have walking, biking, hiking trips for singles, mixed groups, and women only in about every beautiful area of the world. I have often wanted to sponsor a Backroads trip for women going through divorce. That’s on my bucket list.
Here is another idea: Take personal vacation time to do nothing! I came across two Wall Street Journal articles last week about the value of just “doing nothing.”
Both articles extol the virtues of NOT filling every moment of your time off with busyness. “The Case for the Do-Nothing Vacation” is about kids remembering how to “do nothing.” In this age of teenagers (and younger) who fill their summer with resume-building or sports-enhancing camps and educational experiences, it’s good to occasionally get back to actually just chilling out. Soon enough most high school kids will have to get jobs to help pay for things they need. (This is actually good for them!)
The other article, “The Season for Learning to Do Nothing,” encourages all of us to sit on the porch with a glass of lemonade and ponder life. Or take a nap in the hammock and savor the fact that we don’t have to be constantly doing something. It’s okay to just “be” for awhile.
Vacation time, after divorce or not, can become one more thing to fret about. Teaching our children to remember to take some time doing nothing is a gift we can give them, too.
You might have to set limits on screen time and demand at least some time out of the house or the apartment every day, but let’s grab vacations back by actually using them to unwind and have absolutely nothing on our To Do list!
What if we decided to take a train trip (either alone or with the kids) and explored a city or town close by and just walked around with no specific plans at all? We can do that in a different part of our own city, too! What if we took a nap in the afternoon and picked up food to go and watched old movies, or played cards? What about finding an obscure museum that was interesting? The options for real vacations after divorce are all around us! It’s up to us to find them!