Divorced fathers often have mixed feelings about summer visitation with their children. While they are excited to see them and spend quality time with their kids in an uninterrupted block, there can be some discomfort. After all, the kids are out of their comfort zone, their friendship group and their neighborhood. They may have different rules at mom's home. And even communicating with their mom about scheduling and details of the visit can cause some stress and anxiety.
So, what can a dad do to make the most of the summer visitation? I asked several non-custodial dads and checked with some family and child development experts to get some tips and insights into preparing for and creating a positive experience for summer visits.
Create Positive Anticipation. Deena L. Stacer, Ph.D, a family mediator in San Diego, recommends that fathers work to effectively plan summer visitations in advance. Setting the stage by building positive anticipation requires some work and planning. Decide early what you want to do, and then engage the children in planning. Coordinate with e-mails and phone calls. Spend some time during your weekly visits planning and preparing. By engaging them in the process, they will be more excited about the event when it approaches.
Not Just Disneyland. Custodial moms often complain about the "Disneyland Dad Syndrome." Their complaint is that all dad does is have fun with the kids, while she has to be the one who enforces rules and gets them to take responsibility the rest of the year. While being a "Disneyland Dad" is a lot of fun, it is not in the best interest of the kids to just see you as a "fun guy." You have a responsibility to be a parent in every sense of the word. So make sure summer visitation is a balance between fun and responsible living.
Allow Time for Adjustment to New Environment. Your home environment will likely be much different than the environment at their home with their mom. It may take some time for the kids to adjust to your home, possibly your new family, and a different routine. Be patient as they adjust, and communicate a lot with them about what they are experiencing.
Find Out About Your Child. Particularly if you live some distance away from your kids, you may not know them as well as you should. Summer visit, and the time preparing for the visit, can be a good time to learn more about them. And the more familiar you are with things like their favorite foods (and what they hate to eat), their regular habits, needed medicines, etc., the more you can help them feel comfortable with you.
Prepare for Conversations. Get up to speed on what is of interest to your kids. Find out how his middle school or high school, or favorite professional sports, teams are doing or did during the year. If he is into water skiing, stop by a local sports store to find out about the sport, the best brands, and the top local locations. Getting into his world will help you have some positive and pleasant things to talk about while he is there for the summer visit.
Communicate About Expectations. One of the most important things you can do is to manage expectations. Find out what your children want to do while they are with you for the summer. Find out what they don't want to do as well. For example, if you have remarried or have a significant other, you might want to find out how comfortable they are with spending time with both of you rather than just you. Helping you know about their hopes and expectations for the visit will make it easier to address their needs.