During  the 15 years that I have been divorced, and the 12 years I have been in a stepfamily, March is not just about basketball, but it can still have madness in it.  And for many families that I work with, some years can be enormously stressful.  Why?

The deadline for summer visitation in most divorce decrees is April 1st.  And then comes the additional visitation selections by the other parent. Trying to figure out all the details can be harrowing for many.

If you and your ex have managed to find a way to work through this issue without going through the official designation process as assigned by the decree, congratulations. Consider yourselves lucky to be able to negotiate and work it out fairly with your ex.

This is for those of you who are new to this time period, or for those of you who find yourself feeling like there is a bowling ball in the pit of your stomach.

Keep in mind the following tips for keeping your sanity and losing the bowling ball feeling between now and the time the summer schedule is resolved.

If you are the parent who has their children less during the school year than the other parent and you are designating first, take as much visitation as you can under your decree as long as you are going to be present at least 2/3 of the time they are with you each period.  While it is great to let grandparents or the stepparent have some with your kids, you are the biological parent and they need your time most importantly.

If you are the parent who has the children more during the school year and designates last, remember that the other parent doesn’t have long weekends and weeks at a time with their children during the school year except for holidays. Stop resenting their visitation or creating frustration around it, if you do that.

If your ex is taking the kids for a week or weeks at a time, stop fretting and start planning your summer with that in mind.

Here’s a few tips for either parent and their summer time with their kids:

Follow the decree and designate by your deadline in the way you know your ex will get your designation by email, mail or fax. It you have a high conflict ex, you might send it all these ways :).

When your children are with you, take time off from work as much as you can and really spend time with them.

Don’t worry about taking expensive trips, but do plans things for each period they will be with you.

On days you do have to work, don’t just leave them at the house by themselves.  Find a day camp, swap with other parents, and make an effort to keep them safe, busy and supervised while you are at work. On the weekends, plan different things to do every weekend depending upon the age of your children.  PS- Don’t feel guilty about going to work on some days.  That is part of family life.

Create small traditions that you do every summer.  Our family went to the waterpark every summer, enjoyed specific attractions at the park, and had different traditions like going out for ice cream after dinner or riding our bikes after dark.

No matter how tempting it is, maintain some sense of structure around bedtime, eating healthy food, and if your children are young, taking naps.  While an occasional late night in the summer is fine-and I’m talking 10pm here for kids under age 12- and midnight for older kids, try to have habits that get everyone into bed at reasonable hours. Why? Because tired kids- no matter the age- are a bear to live with.

If you will be consistent, your kids will be fine and you will have little arguing for the most part. On those nights, maybe once a week, where they get to stay up late, make sure they can sleep late the next morning, but don’t be surprised if they are still grumpy.  Kids and parents of all ages need their sleep regularly.

Along those same lines, make sure to plan time to play and rest.  If you have a busy afternoon, do a movie night at home, and vice-versa.  You can’t parent 24 hours a day, and all parents need downtime along with their kids.

When your kids aren’t with you, plan adult things to do and try to enjoy the time to play or rest or work, so you can be ready for your kids when they are with you.  Establish traditions when you do not have your kids each summer, and you will find the time will fly by.

Be clear that your time with your kids is what you make it.  Have a good attitude of flexibility and a plan for the weeks, and you can be okay.  It is not about having a perfect summer. It is about having a summer with your kids, and being family with them.  Family is not about being perfect, it is about being present and trying to do what you can.

And last, but not least, if you are a stepparent, do your best to support your spouse without doing negotiations for them.  And when the kids are with you during the summer, you need time to rest and play too. Make sure your partner- the biological parent- is the main planner and doer with the kids. You can help but give them time alone together sometimes, so you can get your breaks too.  This is especially important if you are a stepparent who is with them while your partner is at work. When your partner gets home, plan some evenings out just for yourself.

If this time or some issue around it is a struggle for you, let me know your issue by comment here because others probably have it too (or by email if you want it stay private), and I would be happy to give you some specific tips.

If you have traditions or ways that work for you during your summer time with your kids, comment here so everyone can enjoy them!