Everyone loves vacations – they’re a happy time for families to escape their day-to-day routines and enjoy quality time with one another. But what should a vacation with your kids look like now that you’re no longer together? There are many possible answers to that question, and the only correct option is the one that best fits your family fabric.
If you’re like most people, you probably cherished those moments away with your family before you uncoupled. But now you might find yourself feeling sad while thinking about future vacations without your ex. You might also feel a bit lost, wondering if you should go on vacation with your ex-spouse and children or allow the kids to take a separate trip with each parent instead.
Although you’re probably seeking definitive answers to those questions, you won’t find any from outside sources because only you, your ex-spouse, and your kids know what’s right for your family. Regardless of what you ultimately decide, there are a few things you’ll want to consider beforehand.
When not to go on vacation with your ex
The first and arguably most important thing to think about is where you stand with your ex-spouse. If you’re not in a good place in your everyday lives, then you aren’t going to be in a good place on vacation.
“If there’s still tension, hurt, or conflict between you, then you shouldn’t go on vacation together or try to hide those feelings for the sake of the children. If you do so, you risk teaching your kids to mask their own feelings,” Dr. Jerry Gale, a marriage and family therapist and professor emeritus at the University of Georgia, said.
It’s also important to remember that, depending on their age, kids can sense problems between their parents – so trying to play “happy family” on vacation might do more harm than good.
“As a therapist, the kids I see are usually aware of the tension between their parents when they’re in conflict or divorcing. It’s not a secret to them,” Gale said.
When you’re friends with your ex-spouse
However, Gale said that vacationing with your ex-spouse and kids can, in some scenarios, work out just fine. “It can be harmless and positive. But couples really need to weigh the benefits and avoid making rash decisions.”
In other words, being friends with your ex doesn’t necessarily mean you should jump on a cruise ship with them anytime soon.
“There are so many factors to consider when deciding if you should go on vacation with your ex-spouse. You need to look at the bigger picture. Why are you doing it? What do you hope to get out of it? How does each person in the family feel about it?” Gale said.
Another thing to think about is whether one or both partners are now involved in a new relationship. If so, will those people be joining the vacation? If not, will they feel left out?
“A new partner might not be understanding as to why the divorced parents still want to vacation together. If they join the vacation, it can be a recipe for complexity – and potentially disaster.”
Parents who don’t have new partners can still enter awkward territory, especially if the “honeymoon effect” comes into play.
“Imagine two divorced parents go on vacation with their children. It’s nighttime, the kids are asleep, and they’re walking on the beach after having a couple cocktails. Suddenly there’s an attraction. This can raise a lot of questions for both partners and create complexity,” Gale said.
If couples agree to vacation separately to avoid negative or confusing scenarios, Gale said it’s best to have those plans set in place far in advance, whether that’s in the form of a formal custody arrangement or through old-fashioned communication.
“It’s good to have plans, because it allows both parties to plan around the time when their kids will be away. Coordination is good, but you must remember that you can’t control your ex-spouse. The kids will probably be under a different set of rules while they’re away, and you’ll have to respect that,” Gale said.
Putting the kids first
If jealousy rears its ugly head while your kids are vacationing with your ex, Gale said you should do your best to cope like an adult.
“When I work with couples, I ask them who they want their child to be when they grow up. They always want them to be a good person and a good partner,” Gale said, adding that children only learn those attributes through observing that behavior in others – most often their parents.
“Parents should always put the emphasis on their child’s development, rather than themselves,” Gale said, noting that any loneliness or ill feelings about your kids vacationing without you should be put aside for the better good.
Navigating vacations after divorce can be complicated, but you and your ex are capable of creating a plan that works best for your family. And once you make that decision, don’t let anyone tell you it’s the wrong one.