If you are a parent who has been awarded visitation with your child, you might be wondering how to best spend the time. Visitation schedules can range from seeing your child several times each week or seeing them only for a week or two in the summer; the latter is more common if you live far away and aren’t able to visit with your child regularly. How can you make the most of your time? Read on for some tips on creating and maintaining a relationship with your child during and between visitation.
Plan Some Fun Activities
While it’s not a good idea to pack every day of your visitation with special outings and treats, having a few fun activities planned will help create memories and help your child look forward to the next visit. It is important to have some balance; your child shouldn’t only remember trips to Disney World and all-night-long movie marathons when they think about their visits with you, but doing these types of things on occasion will bring a smile to their face for decades to come.
Think about what is feasible in your area and on your budget. Simple pleasures like going to a playground or splashing around together in a community pool will be fun for your child. You might decide to bake cookies together or work on a special project like building a clubhouse or painting a mural on their bedroom wall. Depending on the age of your child, you can work together to come up with some great ideas.
Stick to the Main Parts of Their Routine and to Major Rules
While it’s important (and fun!) to add some special activities to your visitation days and nights, it’s also important that your child feels like your home is their home and not just a place to go on vacation. Part of feeling like they are home will be to stick to some type of routine.
For young children, keeping bedtimes and mealtimes roughly the same as what they experience at their other parent’s house is a good idea. While your three-year-old might say they want to stay up later, chances are good that indulging a very late bedtime will result in a cranky, irritable child the next morning. Young children also tend to become upset and might have some behavioral challenges if they skip meals or aren’t eating the same types of foods that they usually do.
Older kids can often manage some routine changes, but basic rules should remain consistent. Talk to your ex about what the major rules are and how you might compromise if you don’t think they’re appropriate in your home. For example, if your young teenager’s other parent has told them that they are not allowed to date yet, this is something worth discussing if you disagree rather than simply allowing your child to go on dates with someone that they met while visiting you.
Encourage Them to Stay in Touch With the Other Parent
Your child might miss his or her other parent while visiting you, and it’s important that you accept this as normal and healthy. Do not guilt your child into not having contact with your ex. They will probably find this distressing and might feel upset, guilty, and that they are doing something wrong by wanting to talk to their mom or dad. Instead, encourage them to find a consistent time for a phone call or a Facetime session. For example, if your child is spending a weekend with you, you might ask them on Saturday evening after dinner if they’d like to call their other parent. Let your child know that you understand the importance of their relationship with their other parent and that you don’t think it diminishes from the relationship that the two of you share.
Keep in Touch Between Visits
In the same respect, you will want to keep in touch between visits. Whether it’s a nightly text to say goodnight or a Facetime session twice per week, it is important to stay involved in what your child is up to and what’s important to them. Keep in mind that by encouraging and allowing your child to call their mom or dad while they are with you, it can make it more likely that your ex will do the same when the child is with them. Talk to your former partner about this so it does not become an issue and be respectful of their time while asserting your need to speak with your child regularly.
Make New Traditions
If you are having visitation over holidays, it can feel strange to your child to not be with his or her other parent as well, particularly the first couple of years after your divorce or separation. Think of new traditions that the two of you can enjoy together. For example, if you are not going to be spending Thanksgiving together, you could have “Thanksgiving in July” (or at some other part of the year). Or if you are spending Thanksgiving together but you don’t want to cook a big meal, you might consider enjoying dinner at a local church or community center. Maybe the two of you could even volunteer to serve others. Use your imagination and talk to your child about new traditions you could enjoy each year.
Create a Visitation Calendar
Spend some of your time creating a visitation calendar so your child has a tangible way to remember when he or she will be at your home. Purchase an inexpensive calendar at an office supply store and, depending on the age of your child, help them color in the days that they’ll be spending with you. They can use stickers to decorate the days or write in some of the plans that you have made. They can use this calendar when they aren’t with you to keep track of how many days or weeks it will be until they see you again.
Creating and maintaining a bond with your child is the reason why visitation is important, so keep in mind your goals as you enjoy your time together.