Dear Diary,

This summer, my daughter will go on vacation–four times. Twice with her father and twice with me. She’ll also attend summer camp for the first time. It’s a bit much, yes. But such is the life of a co-parented kid. In order for her summer schedule to occur, we had to coordinate and compromise. In the past, my ex and I didn’t budge. The court mandated order dictated our daughter’s schedule. Make plans on your pre-determined dates. That was our response when the other requested additional time or a swap. But time heals all wounds, and ours are almost mended.  We’re far from friends–although he called me his bestie recently, however we are cordial co-parents.  And we’re learning the meaning of the word flexible. We weren’t always able to communicate. A judge or my father passed many messages.

But now, we pick up the phone or send an email. I recently called him to suggest that he participates in our school district’s Take a Father to School Day. The event occurred one day before his scheduled pickup. In the past, I wouldn’t have made the call. Today, I realized it would put a smile on my daughter’s face. Again it took time and a website called Family Wizard to get to this point. Our judge ordered us to use Family Wizard, which is a child custody management tool equipped with a calendar, message board, expense log and information bank.

Take a Father to School Day

For those parents at the beginning of the journey from bitter to better, Deesha Phillywaw, co-author of Co-parenting 101, is giving advice on co-parenting through the summer.

Heather: Help! How do you co-parent through the summer? Any advice?

Deesha: Plan ahead. Way ahead. If you can, start planning for summer at the end of the previous summer while things are fresh in your mind. What worked well? What didn’t? What do you need to remember to sort out or discuss in advance? If your summer schedule is different from your schedule during the rest of the year, be explicit about dates and times, and give as much notice as possible around desired vacation dates.

You should also be realistic and reasonable about what you can and cannot control. Your co-parent may not ask your opinion about the camps he has chosen for your children during his summer parenting time. Or maybe you feel the kids should be in camp instead of staying with his cousin during the day. His time, his decision as long as the kids are safe and well-cared for.

Any costs associated with camps and summertime should be agreed upon well in advance and explicitly addressed in your shared parenting plan.

Heather: What if there is an unexpected change of plans?

Deesha: Be flexible as much as you can if travel issues or special occasions necessitate a schedule change. Things happen, and you’d want your co-parent to be flexible if something unavoidable changed with your plans, so extend the same courtesy when possible. And remember, that ultimately, your child benefits if you’re able to be flexible to allow the other parent’s summer plans to happen smoothly.

Heather: Summer may mean longer time apart from your child. How can you prepare for that?

Deesha:  How often and how (telephone, Skype, etc.) will you communicate with your child when she’s with the other parent? Consider the same for when your child is with you for an extended amount of time. Be sure to be on the same page with your co-parent about this, and be reasonable in terms of your expectations. And remember, you may feel the need to be in touch more often than your child does, so try not to take it personally if he doesn’t want to communicate as often as you do, especially if he’s vacationing with the other parent.

The time and distance apart may be hard on you as a parent. Build up your resources: schedule your own vacation, plan outings with friends, do all the things you’re not able to do when your child is in your care. Stay out late, sleep in, don’t cook, start a new project.

Remember that summer/vacation time isn’t a competition with your co-parent. If he’s able to take your kids to Disney World for a week, but it’s a stretch for you to take them to a local amusement park for a day, that’s okay. Make your own peace with that, and you’ll find it easier to respond calmly and matter-of-factly if your child says something about the disparity. Keep the focus on quality time spent having fun together.

Heather: Should you head to court to get an official summer schedule?

Deesha: If you and your co-parent can’t agree on a summer schedule and related expenses, work with a third party mediator to try to sort it out. The court may require this as a first step. If that doesn’t work, then file a motion with the court. While I’ve been co-parenting for over a decade, and I don’t have a detailed provision in my shared parenting agreement about summer scheduling or expenses, I do think it’s wise to have one just in case conflict arises down the road. The court moves slowly, and summer could be over by the time you even get a hearing date assigned. And having a written agreement makes it less likely, though not impossible, for a co-parent to get a wild hair and start requesting changes willy nilly and being unreasonable about expenses.


Heather: Who should pay for what? Summer expenses, such as camps, sporting events and plane tickets, can be sky high.

Deehsa: It’s great if co-parents can agree to split 50-50, or split based on their respective incomes, but of course that can get hairy and often the court has to decide what’s reasonable and who pays for what. Co-parents also don’t always agree as to what summer should be like for a kid. One remembers being a kid playing in the neighborhood all day and never going to camp. The other feels children should have their time supervised and structured during the day and should be in camps. Neither parent is right or wrong, and neither may get 100 percent of what they want. The first parent will probably have to fork over some cash to pay for camp, and the other may have to be satisfied with a local YMCA camp rather than sleep away program. The other option is that each parent only pays for the activities that take place during their respective parenting time. I hesitate to say who should pay for what because situations are so different. In my situation, we don’t have a court order for this; we just handle it each summer depending on the plans and circumstances. My co-parent tends to pay more for summer camps, because he earns more than I do. But if there’s an activity I want our kids to do, and he’s not 100 percent into it, I’ll pay for it in full. Or if I can afford it, I’ll pay half of the camps we agree on, because he pays more of their tuition during the school year. If either of us travels with the kids, we pay for those trips ourselves 100 percent.

Heather: How do you avoid competition and trying to one-up your ex?

Deesha: Easy: He makes way more money than I do, so I couldn’t compete even if I wanted to. But my advice to other co-parents would be to recognize what you’re doing and what you’re essentially saying about your child when you play that oneupmanship game. You’re saying that you can curry more favor with your child by outspending your their other parent. And the only way that works is if you’re child is materialistic. Your child is going to be happy with quality time and attention from you and the other parent, regardless of how extravagant the vacation is or isn’t. So save your money if you’re doing this just to one-up the other parent.

And if you do your child the disservice of intentionally trying to outdo the other parent in this regard, what’s your end game? To diminish and cast a cloud on the time your child is with his other parent? That’s not going to make your child love you more and the other parent less. Even if your plans are bigger and better than your ex’s, you can still discuss things with your child in such a way that she can be joyful when she’s with you and with the other parent.

Heather: What if your plans change? Should you ask your ex to be flexible?

Deesha: You can ask, but you should not feel entitled to a yes. When making or changing summer plans, as with all of co-parenting, be child-centered in your approach, choose your battles, and remember that unless your child’s well-being is at risk in a way that can be documented, you cannot control what happens during the other parent’s parenting time.

Hey DFTM Fam–Are you co-parenting through the summer? What tips do you have for setting up a schedule?

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links for Our Family Wizard.

About The Author

Vlog Mom/DFTM Creator

Not long ago, Heather Hopson hosted a television show in the Cayman Islands. Today, she's back home writing a different kind of story as a new mom. In her 15 years working as a professional journalist, this by far is her best assignment! Growing up, she dreamed of becoming Oprah Winfrey. She was the features editor for her school’s newspaper and a teen talk show host for her city’s most popular radio station. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Michigan State University. After graduation, she worked as a television producer and reporter at CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates throughout the U.S. Instead of heading to Chicago to join Ms. Winfrey on her set, she bought a plane ticket to the Cayman Islands instead. She arrived five days before a category five hurricane! She lived in paradise for seven years, hosted an award-winning television show and traveled the globe with a government delegation. She also served on the board of directors for Big Brothers Big Sisters and spearheaded a Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Then, she relocated to Washington, D.C. to obtain a teaching certification and instruct 8th grade reading at a high needs middle school. She later returned to her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to raise her daughter Caitlynn, now 4-years-old. During her 10-month-stint as a stay-at-home mom, Caitlynn inspired her to create this blog, and Diary of a First Time Mom was born on Mother’s Day 2012. Two years later, she expanded the family to include 20+ writers. Currently, Heather serves as the communications director at Allies for Children. In addition, she is the owner of Motor Mouth Multimedia, which ranked #49 in Startup Nation’s Home-Based 100 Competition sponsored by Discover Card and Sam’s Club. Recently, The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments selected Heather to receive an Emerging Black Artist award to develop Diary of a First Time Mom.

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