Vacations are absolutely about a thousand percent harder to plan for a family where divorce is involved than where it is not. Why? Well let’s see… first you have to consider your schedule, the child’s schedule if they are involved in sports or other activities, and the other parent’s schedule. Then, if either parent is remarried or in a serious relationship, you have to consider the other partner’s schedule and desires. If they too are divorced with children, you have to work around the schedule of the other parent and the other children’s schedule. Then finally, if the said vacation is a group event based on years of tradition, you may not even be at much liberty to dictate changes to the vacation schedule. Seriously, scheduling a family vacation is among the most challenging of acts to pull off when all of these dynamics are simultaneously in play. And I haven’t even added in the considerations for the location, the weather, and modes of travel. What a fricking nightmare!
Scheduling family vacations has offered me one of my most profound lessons when it came to learning about compromise and also standing up for myself and my relationship with my son.
The years preceding when I met my fiancé Brian were easier on vacation scheduling since I didn’t have all the extra schedules to consider and I could be more flexible on my end. Bob, on the other hand, never seemed to be in a position of setting his own schedule. As Ian entered high school and I met Brian, things became more challenging. Between Ian’s marching band schedule and Bob’s unmovable vacation schedule, we started to face some real challenges. Ian had about one month off from band each summer during which Bob and I would both scramble to fit in the family vacation. Brian’s family had a 50 year standing tradition of vacationing in upper Michigan on the same week each July. Of course, this week conflicted directly with the schedule Bob’s friends had also kept for years. The first year we faced this dilemma, Ian spent the first week of a two-week camping venture with his dad. I hung back in Columbus until Ian was driven back with someone who was returning early. Then I drove up with Ian to Michigan to join Brian and his family about four days later. This was a hectic grind for Ian and made me feel a bit awkward. I didn’t like making him leave early from his vacation with his dad and I didn’t like us arriving late to our family vacation either.
When the next year rolled around, we faced the same dilemma and I didn’t want to have the same awkward outcome. So I asked Bob if he could shift the dates of his vacation. At first, he couldn’t believe I was asking him to do this since, in his mind, he had no say in the dates and I could have picked any other week. But once I explained the long-standing tradition of Brian’s family and the fact I could not after 50 years attempt to impose a drastic shift in the schedule, he agreed to talk to his contingent and negotiate a different set of dates. Had I not spoken up, Ian might have missed out on several years of enjoyment with his future step-siblings and extended step-family at a wonderful location in northern Michigan wakeboarding, swimming, and enjoying these precious years with his mother at his side.
As the years progressed, I came to appreciate Bob’s quick rectification of the vacation schedule as our family vacation became the victim of many battles between Brian and his ex who, every year, seemed to find some activity that his daughter or son absolutely couldn’t bear to miss and that would inevitable interrupt our vacation schedule. Of course, as step-parent, I simply didn’t have the same influence over this situation and had to all-too-frequently just grin and bear it. But more on that in a future writing.
So as we head into summer vacation season, I have a few suggestions to offer based on my experience.
- Plan ahead
I’m sorry but you need to concede your spontaneous nature if you expect things to go smoothly in this department. If that bothers you, I’ll just ask you to consider if you like it when people spring things on you and impact your schedule without even thinking about how it might affect your life. So be kind and discuss the plan even if it’s just the dates, as soon as you know them. That way if there are conflicts to overcome, you can start resolving those issues now and head into your vacation relaxed… as nature intended it.
- Be flexible
Yeah, I know. This one is hard because when I say flexible, it may require you bending over backwards to make everything work out. But don’t assume your large group, ex-spouse, or new companion is inflexible on dates. Explain your circumstances rationally to decide on the best dates that will present the least conflicts for everyone.
- Stick up for yourself and your child
It’s important to understand that when I say be flexible, that doesn’t mean you should always give in to the ex-spouse and forego your vacation desires. If your conflicts are impassable year after year, suggest alternating. One year he gets his way and the next year you get yours. If this doesn’t work, ask him for suggestions that don’t call for you being the only one to compromise. If this still doesn’t work, you may have to be a little more assertive with the situation by expressing to the ex-spouse that all you really want is to spend a nice family vacation with your child and to make sure he gets to do the same with his dad. When the father sees that you are trying to consider him in the equation, he may back off or offer up reasonable solutions. If not, then you’re probably struggling with them on a number of fronts which requires a deeper conversation with them to get on a path that is more conducive to cooperation.
- Remember what you really want
What do I mean by this? Well you don’t want to get your way if this means your child will be left feeling awful about the situation. If they are going to miss a monumental family event or a once-in-a-lifetime experience by not joining a particular vacation, you’ll want to do everything in your power to ensure they are included. Later on when the whole family is sitting around the Thanksgiving dinner table together reminiscing about that time in Paris, your child won’t be the only one who wasn’t there.
You don’ want to get your way if it means destroying future prospects of cooperation with your ex-spouse or others with whom you are still connected within his group. Like so many other circumstances in our lives, we have to think of others and the impact our actions have on them and decide if the way they feel as a result of these actions makes us happy or not. If our child isn’t happy you’re probably not going to be either. So this may mean that if your child could go to Disney with dad or on the annual family camping trip with you one year, they might enjoy Disney more and you should probably let them choose Disney guilt-free. Now if this happens every year, to me it signals that the other parent is manipulating the situation intentionally and that’s not cool either. When this happens, refer back to #3.
In any case, be sure not to turn the family vacation into a weapon used to guilt your child or your ex, to win favor in your child’s eyes, or to worst of all, deny them unforgettable childhood experiences just so that you impose your will.