Summer as a Separated Parent During Coronavirus
Summer as a Separated Parent During Coronavirus
How are you feeling about the school summer holidays? Like Christmas, it’s an emotionally heightened time of year. You might be feeling relieved not to have to struggle with homeschooling any more? Are you daunted by how to fill the time, or guilty that there isn’t the money to give your children daily treats, trips and holidays?
And when you’re a separated parent, there’s the added layer of how to manage it solo – and how your ex will manage their time with the children too.
So if you’re feeling stressed, I hear you! You’re not alone. Plenty of the ladies in The Absolute Academy are right there with you.
Surviving Summer as a Separated Parent During Coronavirus is possible. Here are some tips for getting through.
Get a plan together
Now I know that planning may not be your jam – it can feel like a drag if you’re more of a ‘go with the flow’ person. Perhaps you love just being able to up and go – and you might have done this when you were married. But now things are different. It’s not just about you anymore. It’s about the children’s other parent too.
Remember that Parental Responsibility is about the child’s rights to spend time with each of their parents (in the absence of official measures to the contrary), not about your rights to time with them. So, getting a plan in place will be super helpful for all of you – including the children.
Try to be as collaborative as possible. Try to have everything clearly laid out in writing so everyone knows what’s happening when.
Get your children involved
Summer as a Separated Parent During Coronavirus means getting the children involved in making plans if you can, There are so many benefits for them: it’s fun, it boosts connection with you, and it gives them a sense of control. And, bonus – it takes some of the creative pressure away from you!
Of course, what they want and what’s possible may not be a perfect match. So you need to create clear boundaries at the outset.
There may be budget constraints (more on this later). Also, at the time of writing, the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions mean that some things won’t be possible. There may be other things that may not be appropriate, such as if they want to go away with you and your ex together. If it’s not something you feel comfortable doing – be clear and set a limit.
Encourage them to be creative. Get them thinking about the space around them – it could be camping in a tent in your own back garden in the rain and having a midnight feast.
Their ideas of fun may surprise you. Mums often tell me that they slave away in the kitchen over tempting treats for their little ones, only to be told that their favourite memories were of the nights it was crackers, cheese and carrot sticks for tea because Mum was too tired to cook! So listening to their ideas and going with it may save a lot of hassle.
Get a budget and stick to it
Summer as a Separated Parent During Coronavirus means creating a budget and working within it. Do this now and you’ll be better prepared this Christmas when it comes to shopping and laying on all the festive magic. This is about boundaries that you set for yourself.
It’s hard when you know that your children’s other parent has a bigger budget than you. When you hear about the amazing holiday that the children are going on – or that’s promised at least…
Remember, managing expectations is key. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver or something that gives you sleepless nights if you do.
Your children will remember how they felt, not what you spent on them. If your children’s other parent is taking them on a holiday you can’t afford, switch your mindset, however hard that might feel.
Be grateful the children will experience something you can’t give them right now. Be enthusiastic about their excitement and allow them to enjoy whatever trips they go on. They won’t love you less because of it. Let them share their joy with you. It’s not a competition.
And low cost doesn’t have to be low fun – good times are as much about a sense of adventure as jetting off to fancy places. A treasure hunt down the street could be an epic adventure to your five-year-old. Your thirteen year old may love a walk and talk with just you over ice cream, even when they claim they just want to Whats App their friends.
Ditch the guilt
Summer as a Separated Parent During Coronavirus means ditching the guilt. Any guilt. All the guilt. Perhaps you feel you didn’t go all out with the homeschooling. Or you might feel guilty that you’ve been a strict mum and not as much fun as usual. Well, cut yourself some slack – the last few months have been tough for everyone and especially so if you’re a separated parent.
Facing summer as a separated parent is fraught with emotion already. You may be feeling sadness, anger, loneliness, worry, grief for the family life you wanted (all of these are natural, and normal emotions by the way). You do not need guilt on top of all that!
Remember, you have nothing to feel guilty about. If you’re secretly envious or angry that your children’s other parent is able to give them experiences this summer that you can’t, acknowledge your feelings. Pretending they don’t exist will only mean they persist.
The impact of coronavirus
Let’s not underestimate the toll the pandemic has taken on our mental wellbeing – whether you and your loved ones have had the virus or not. Whether you’ve been homeschooling, furloughed, you’ve been made redundant or you’re a key worker who has been working all hours to support the nation, you’ve been affected. If you’re a separated parent right now go easy on yourself. Tiredness, stress or lack of money and time may impact your mood, energy levels and the options available to you and your children.
Be honest. Both with yourself and with your children. There are likely to be things you simply can’t do this year. If it’s your first year as a separated parent, remember next year will be different for so many reasons.
Ask for help if you need it. If your children are away from you, make the most of that time to rest and also have fun for yourself. Show yourself some love and high-five yourself for surviving this far! If the children are alive at the end of every day and have had food in their tummies, that’s a win in my book!
You are enough
Summer as a Separated Parent During Coronavirus means remembering you are enough just the way you are. And your children love you for it. Being a parent with a co-pilot is tough enough. Being a single parent is even more so.
If the children are with you throughout the summer because (for whatever reason), they don’t have a relationship with your ex, then prioritise time for yourself to relax. Who can you reach out to for support? Perhaps you know another single parent who could also use some help? Can you work together somehow?
Sometimes it’s just about having a space to share. Since lockdown, I’ve been running Zoom Rooms for The Absolute Academy members on Monday Mornings and Wednesday evenings. The Monday Zoom Room is closing in August (it may return), but the Wednesday evening Zoom Room is staying and is now a permanent part of The Absolute Academy (come and join us!).
It’s a place to share burdens, connect, celebrate and just share your truth with others in a similar position to you. It’s a great place to be reminded that you are enough, with people who genuinely get it.
Plan downtime for everyone – including yourself
This week the school year, such as it was, comes to an end. You can stop playing teacher and relax. Summer as a Separated Parent During Coronavirus means it’s time-out for you too.
Many schools have endeavoured to mark the end of the school year in some way – but if that hasn’t happened for your children, what can you do?
Ensure that all the children’s school paraphernalia is put away and that you relax and have fun. On the first day of the school holidays, make the morning different. It could be that you make pancakes for breakfast rather than cereals. It could be that you go for a walk, or stay in pyjamas until 3 pm.
Both you and the children need to allow your brains to register that it’s summer now. It’s time to rest.
You need rest too. That means you don’t go straight from ‘teacher’ mode to full time ‘entertainer’ mode. Of course this will depend on the age and temperament of your child(ren), but it’s great role modelling to show them that you have your own needs, hobbies and interests and do not exist solely to care for everyone else’s needs. If you want 15 minutes to read your book (or, heavens, even longer!) after lunch, take it. Make it clear that they need to entertain themselves for a short slice of time while you have fun on your own terms.
September will be here soon
Remember that September will be here soon enough, and after four months of homeschooling, these weeks could fly by.
Reframe your experience of summer. Perhaps the big foreign holidays or large family gatherings won’t be happening. But what can you do to create a summer that nurtures both you and your children? As you plan together, within the time and money boundaries you’ve set, look to create experiences that will become cherished memories.
And remember, it doesn’t have to involve lots of money. A walk or drive to a local woods, with time to get muddy for the kids, and time to chill for you, alongside a picnic and maybe an ice cream might be just what you all need to unwind. Take the time to go slow and simplify wherever you can. Sometimes less really is more.
Summer can be a great time to take stock, especially if the pressures of homeschooling are off, and work slows down as people take annual leave. If that’s you, and you want to chew over what it might mean for your divorce and your future. I’m happy to chat. Just book in a free call here.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com