The summer holidays hit all parents with a mixture of emotions. Thoughts of children’s expectations, weather, money, work and, above all, time — endless yet limited — crowd a harried parent’s mind as the last moments of school disappear in sports days and long goodbyes to friends and routine.
Mixed in are memories of our own childhood summer holidays. We have distilled them into a mental video of the fun we had — beaches, swimming, ice cream and watching dusk fall on a warm night.
Childhood memories are precious, and the experiences we want to make for our own children even more so. This is 1,000 times more fraught when you are divorced. Who’s going to take the kids on the beach holiday? The Bank Holiday weekend? The rare British hot spell?
Many divorced parents are in a tug of war over who will be the one to get little Tommy in the sea for the first time without water wings, or who will bear the painful cost of two weeks away at the height of August.
Many divorced parents are in a tug of war when it comes to the summer holidays (file photo)
Two parents, two agendas, and yet it’s still one family. Someone will lose out, and it hurts. Around 42 per cent of couples divorce these days, and both parties face periods of resentment and loneliness as they come to terms with the fact their former ‘other half’ offers the children as much of a good time in the summer — and that the kids are theirs, too.
My ex-husband and I have been divorced for more than 12 years now, but if you had told me seven years ago that we would one day spend holidays together with our children, I would have thought you were mad. The holidays are too stressful — how could we ever find a way to do it together, and why would we want to?
But then, why would Hollywood stars Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck want to? The couple took their three young children to the Caribbean this summer — just two months after filing for divorce. The pair have been going on regular holidays together since they split two years ago.
And Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, who ‘consciously uncoupled’ three years ago, were recently photographed on a yacht in Cannes with their 11-year-old son Moses.
It clearly works. A planned itinerary, a time frame, and the desire to spend quality time with the children fuels good behaviour. It sends out a signal that the family matters more than the individual parents.
But it’s not just celebrities who are feeling their way to a new kind of family holiday. Many divorced mothers will concur that to see your children happy and fulfilled with the other parent is vital.
Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck (pictured together in April) took their three young children to the Caribbean this summer – just two months after filing for divorce
A straw poll among my friends reveals a divorced couple, one half with a new partner, heading to Spain for a four-day wedding celebration with their children. ‘It’s fine, it’s family,’ says the single mother. ‘I’m glad his girlfriend is coming — he’s much nicer with her around.’
Another pair are camping in Suffolk, as they did every year when they were married, and as they have done every year since they divorced in 2012. ‘It’s much cheaper than both of us taking them separately, and the children love it. They’d hate for one of us not to be there.’
This from a 40-year-old divorced mother-of-three, who has just spent the weekend at a festival with her older daughter’s father and his new wife. Her son from her second marriage came, too.
Modern-day relationships are complicated, and making separate plans with the muddle of blended families is frustrating.
I can only speak for my experience. In the end it came down to a longing for the joys of family holidays — something thrown into stark relief when, aged 49, I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer and had to have surgery.
Somehow the summer break became a symbol of family healing as well as my own recovery.
Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, who ‘consciously uncoupled’ three years ago, recently enjoyed a day out on board a yacht in Cannes with their 11-year-old son Moses (file photo)
I live on the coast in Norfolk with my new husband. Three years ago, after my diagnosis, my ex-husband and his long-term girlfriend rented a holiday home nearby.
The children, who were 25, 23 and 18, could have beach picnics and outings with them and hang out with me as I lay on the sofa recuperating. It was easy and friendly and appreciated by all of us. Time is a gift, and everyone gained.
That was a small step, but it had momentum, and six months later we all went on holiday for two weeks in South Africa. Not all of us were together all of the time or travelled together, but we did spend the best part of the holiday together.
Our joint family was huge — there was my ex, his girlfriend, her children, my husband and me, my three children and my ex’s girlfriend’s relations — who we were visiting.
One day we all climbed Table Mountain; a macho cousin led us up the sheerest route, with no knowledge of what we were doing and no proper shoes. It was like an episode of a reality TV show — so much could have gone wrong. But as my husband and the 16-year-old son of my ex’s girlfriend revealed astonishing climbing skills and disappeared miles ahead, my daughter pushed my ex up a crevice, and my younger son and I clung almost sobbing to the rock face, it was clear something had shifted.
Different things mattered. Petty bickering and old resentments were irrelevant now so much time had passed. What was important to both of us was experiencing life with our children. (And not falling off the mountain.)
Any divorced parent is familiar with the call from a child reluctantly or excitedly sharing news of a fun experience with the other parent. This way we all saw it first-hand. No one was left out or felt the guilt of trying to pretend it wasn’t great to spare the absent parent’s feelings.
What is needed for such a holiday to work is a changed perception of what a family group is. The rewards are infinite — and we will do it again for sure.
KEEPING THE PEACE – DOS AND DON’TS
DO include partners.
DO arrange things so you each have time with the children without the ex. In our case, my husband and I took the children to watch the cricket Test, then we left and my ex had three days with them before they flew home.
DO go somewhere with plenty of activities and outdoor excursions, and enough space. A week in a rain-lashed hut would try the patience of anyone — don’t push your tolerance levels to the brink.
DO show your appreciation at all times and don’t sulk.
DON’T get plastered and tell home truths.
DON’T make plans without consulting everyone.
DON’T try to do everything together all the time.
DON’T expect to get your own way. Everything must be negotiated with all adults.