When you’re a single parent in the wake of divorce, your impulse is to forego vacations: “too expensive;” “downright extravagant.” Please don’t do that. You and your kids both need some time away from the routine. Here are some ways to make it happen, even when money is tight.
In mediation I usually encourage divorcing couples to review their budgets to cut down on unpleasant financial surprises. It’s not unusual for people to tell me as they’re reviewing their budgets, “I just won’t be able to take vacations now.” I hope you won’t say that. Vacations are important. Divorce and its aftermath are stressful and exhausting. You need a break, and so do your children.
When the kids spend most of their time away from you, you need to take advantage of the times when you can be with them for extended periods of time. Just because they’re with you for a week or two doesn’t mean you have to program the entire time together; it may be helpful to have some time when you just spend time together in your home. Getting away to a fun spot for a few days, though, can be a source of delightful memories that will strengthen your relationship.
And if your parenting plan calls for the children to spend most of their time with you, they still need memories of frolic time with you. They need time with you – and you need time with them — to cut loose and have fun together. They need to see you with your hair down and your feet up.
Although vacations often are expensive, and although it makes sense to save up for them if at all possible, they don’t have to break the bank. You can stay close to home. Near Birmingham, Alabama, for example, where I live, you could check out the Civil Rights Museum. Vulcan. Go to the Art Museum. Go park at the end of the Birmingham Airport runway and let the planes fly over you. Don’t laugh; kids love it.
Take a picnic lunch to Oak Mountain. Go to the Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery – you don’t even have to have tickets to a show to enjoy the grounds and the pond.
Watch the newspaper for when the Barons are going to have a fireworks display. You can go to the game and watch; you can even go and park outside the stadium to watch the fireworks without buying tickets.
You can take a train trip. Amtrak still runs from Birmingham. You can travel by train to New Orleans, to Montgomery, to Nashville, to Chattanooga, and to Atlanta.
You can go to Atlanta. Take in Centennial Park (yes, the funky fountains are still active), Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, Six Flags, and White Water. Watch the schedule on Six Flags, though. It’s often closed when you would think it would be open.
You can buddy up. Often you can make an expensive trip affordable by sharing the expense with another single-parent family. Caution is in order, however, in your choice of families. You have to be satisfied both that you will enjoy time with the other parent and that your children will enjoy spending time with the other children. Take it to the bank: one will not compensate for the other. Also, avoid using a vacation to relate with someone of the opposite sex. Your children will probably resent the involvement, and the close togetherness you were hoping for will never happen.
If you can afford to spend money on your vacation, you’re in luck. Because more and more families are headed up by single parents, tour operators and resorts are geared up to serve you. Disney World offers special services (at a price, of course) to help single parents enjoy their time at the resort. And several tour operators have packaged single parent experiences.
Another I’ve heard about offers package summer vacations in Vail (you go with other single parent families), with horseback riding, whitewater rafting, hiking, and even a cattle drive.
Whatever your budget, your vacation is more likely to be successful if you plan for it in advance. Figure out ways that the children can help with the planning. Bring home brochures and schedules, and encourage them to make contact with the operators of the tour. If it’s appropriate, plan a special trip to the library to gather information on the places you’ll see while you’re traveling.
But don’t plan too much. The most common mistake parents (single or otherwise) make in planning vacations is to try to program too much. As in “We’ve spent all this money getting to Disney World, and by God we’re gonna see Goofy!”
Take your child’s lead whenever possible. If they really want to just swim in the pool, let’em. They’ll be more pleasant later when it’s time to go to the exhibit. Yes, they’ll miss some beautiful sights. But remember, seeing beautiful sights is not your goal. Relationship is. Relationships get strengthened tickling toes in bed just as often as they get strengthened on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
And plan to get back home at least a day or two before school or day care. You’ll be grateful for the time to ease back into routines.