couple in minefield

Summer Vacations Post-Divorce Can Be Emotional Minefield

A day or so ago, someone shared a blog post called "Summer Vacations and the Divorced Family" with me, and I found the piece very moving. Written by Donna Ferber, a psychotherapist whose practice specializes in life transitions such as divorce, the post recounts a very personal narrative from "Julie," a recently divorced mom whose two sons went on summer vacation with their father and his new girlfriend.

Julie recounts:

As I watched my children wait at the window for their father to arrive, I couldn’t believe the flood of feelings I experienced. Their father is taking them to New York with his girlfriend. Her parents own a large summer house in the Adirondacks. She has six brother and sisters, all married with children. They are all coming this week for a family reunion. As an only child raised in a large city, I never had this kind of experience. I am excited for my children that they can have all these new people in their lives. They will get the experience of a large family. I find myself wishing that I could give them such an experience. I wonder if they will love this new family more than they love me. Of course, I know this is not the case. But sometimes, I feel so insecure.

That first post-divorce summer vacation -- and every one thereafter, really -- can be an emotional minefield for the unwary custodial parent, accustomed to spending every day with the kids. Suddenly turning them loose to embark on a life experience that the custodial parent will not be sharing can trigger many conflicting emotions, as Julie's story demonstrates.

I'm certainly not a therapist, but it seems to me that working through these emotions requires a three-step process:

  1. Acknowledging the emotions -- it may be tempting to shrug off your conflicting emotions as an overreaction, or an emotional "blip," but there are some real feelings there, and they need to be fully acknowledged. Otherwise, most therapists will agree, the feelings just continue to pop back up, occasionally at inopportune times and in sometimes overpowering ways.
  2. Consciously looking for the good in the changed situation -- it may be difficult at first, but reframing those emotions will take a different perspective. Can you begin to enjoy what is most probably your first real "me time" since your marriage? How about being happy that your children get to spend quality time building good memories with their non-custodial parent?
  3. NOT involving the children -- it may be tempting to confess your conflicting emotions to your kids, to let them know how much you'll miss them. It's probably not a good idea to use your kids as your emotional confessor, who may then develop conflicting guilty feelings of their own for "abandoning" you. Rather, rely on your friends or your therapist.

Your new post-divorce life will have a lot of firsts, and some of them will be good ones, while some will trigger some difficult feelings. Have faith in yourself that you can cope and emerge an even stronger, better role model for your children.