Submitted by blended family expert, Shirley Cress Dudley
Have you ever sat down, the week before Thanksgiving, and realized that no one talked about visitation? You don’t know who’s staying with whom or what days you are celebrating holidays…it’s just crazy to not plan ahead!
Coordinating the Schedules
Planning your calendar makes life easier for everyone. If you’ve remarried, and your ex-spouse has remarried, (and the people they remarried were married before) your schedule can effect up to five different families! Your children also need to know where they are, on different weekends, so that there is stability in their lives.
I hope you have already determined the holiday visitation schedule when you completed a separation agreement. If not, common agreements include that the dad will have the kids over Christmas on even ending years, and the mom will have them on odd ending years. Children transition to the other home Christmas afternoon, evening, or the next day. Other holidays are decided the same (with the even/odd year schedule.) Example: If Dad has the kids on the even ending years, then he will have them on the odd ending years during Thanksgiving and Spring break.
Mode of Transportation
Check your calendar and start figuring out how to transport your child to your ex’s house. Will they travel by car, train, or airplane? Amtrak and the airlines provide special services for the unaccompanied child, but you must state that your child is traveling alone when you make the reservation. Reservations made earlier will get you a better rate than waiting until weeks before your child’s visit.
Communicate with your ex-spouse before making any final arrangements. Make sure you give them at least several weeks (to talk with the other families) to confirm the dates and travel plans.
Getting Your Child Organized
It’s helpful to give your child his or her own personal calendar with the visitation dates clearly marked. Having a large calendar in the kitchen, with each child a different color, will also help coordinate your family. If your child knows their schedule, it will give him or her a sense of continuity and stability. They can look at their own calendar anytime they are unsure about when the next visit to Mom or Dad’s house will be.
Start marking their clothes if your child is visiting a house with other children in a blended family that are the same size and gender. Marking their initials on the insides of clothing will mean your child comes home with his or her own clothes and not the wardrobe of a child that’s not yours! We’ve had a child come home with size 3 Batman underwear (he’s 16 and as big as an adult!) and also “lose” half his blue jeans, over the holidays. Mark their initials on all their clothes. It’s also helpful to include a list of all clothes that are being sent. If the noncustodial parent (or their spouse) does laundry, they will have a checklist to make sure everything goes back home.
Does everything still fit? Children grow constantly, and you don’t want to send your child to a noncustodial parent’s house with clothes or shoes that are too short or small. Does your child have enough underwear and socks for a week without laundry? You may want to discuss with your ex-spouse if your child’s clothes can be washed during their visit.
Check your child’s luggage. Are their any wears or tears that will not be good for travel? Children may not mention little holes in luggage, but with the ruggedness of travel, you can lose a lot of precious valuables through a little hole! Follow the sales in the local papers, and you can pick up a large set of luggage inexpensively. Make sure you also purchase luggage tags, so that your child’s name and address is marked on each piece of his or her luggage.
Medicine and Vitamins
Do you need medicine containers to transport medicine? Make sure you also send instructions to the noncustodial parent, on how to administer the medicine. Also, talk with your child about being responsible for taking their vitamins and medicine daily.
If you plan ahead and stay organized, the scheduling of your child’s holiday visitation will go more smoothly.
Shirley Cress Dudley is a licensed professional counselor with a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, and a master’s degree in Education. She has a passion for helping blended families grow strong and be successful, and her book, Blended Family Advice, has been touted as the ultimate must-read for couples contemplating or undergoing such change.