Splitsville: The Vacation Struggle

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

Do you know what its like to try to get a child a passport these days? A single parent with all legal and custodial rights must either petition the courts to bypass their ex’s approval or convince their ex to come down to the passport office to sign off on the application in person. Apparently, the passport office goes by the name on the birth certificate, not the actual legal guardians. And they must bring their child with them. Now I completely and totally understand why these rules are necessary. It should be difficult to take your child out of the country. I’m thankful that you need the written permission of both parents. That doesn’t make sitting in line for hours with your toddler and your ex any more fun.

So getting a passport is not a joy. There’s also the obvious complication of asking for permission from your child’s other parent. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal until someone says, “No”. Then, all of those wonderful plans that you’ve been making just got a lot more difficult. And most parents don’t say no to a vacation plan simply to spite their ex’s. Ok, some of them do, but those people are impossible. Normally, its a scheduling conflict, a trust issue or a safety concern that makes parents hesitant to see their children travel without them.

Especially for parents with hectic work schedules, planning vacation time can be tricky. Many companies reserve the right to cancel your vacation up to two weeks before the scheduled time, depending on how busy the company is. This type of uncertainty makes committing to dates, and therefore planning ahead with your ex, difficult.

Some ex’s demand that vacations operate within their normal visitation schedule. While I can’t see the logic behind refusing any and all cooperation (because at some point in time, you’re going to need a little as well), I can understand how parents who don’t get to see their children as often as they would like might refuse to give up any time at all. Out of courtesy, I think if you take time away from your ex for a vacation, they should be able to make up that time whenever its convenient for them.

Scheduling is tricky, but I think the main culprit of tense vacation talks is trust, with maybe a little jealousy on the side. It’s hard to drop your children off at a different home without any clue of what they’ll be doing all day. It’s astonishingly difficult to say good-bye to your child when they’re going to a place you’ve never been. I love travelling with my daughter, but I think you have to take extra safety precautions when you visit a new place with kids. Its natural to worry whether someone else can be as careful or thoughtful as you would be, no matter who they are! My parents took my daughter home once after a long trip (the trip was for my wedding and they watched my daughter for a couple days after) and I was a wreck. These are my parents, who I trust implicitly and who travelled with me frequently. It was still disconcerting.

The sneakiest destroyer of smooth vacations is jealousy. Its not so much that anyone gets jealous of your ability to take a vacation. It’s that we don’t like missing out on special times for our children. My ex and I honestly had to sit down and have a detailed discussion about who got to take our daughter to Disney Land first. We both wanted to be there when her eyes lit up and her smile seemed to overtake her whole face. No one wants to miss those special moments. We get jealous of the new experiences and special bonding that vacations provide for families. But hopefully, both parents will get the opportunity to create those adventures with their children.

Vacations should be fun and relaxing. They can be, even if they take a little more planning and a lot more cooperation to achieve for separated families.