When your ex wants to take your children on holiday.

Child on the beachFor single parents, holiday times with your children can be far from straight forward – but what about the holiday times you might spend without them?

School’s out! The sun is shining! Summer is here!

My six-year-old son Dylan has had his bags packed for weeks. This summer will be his first holiday abroad and his first time on a plane. He is so excited he’s fit to burst. He’s looking forward to the kind of family holiday that dreams are made of. Except the family that my son is going with doesn’t include me. He is going with his dad and his dad’s new girlfriend. One year in, I thought I’d got this parenting alone thing sussed. But first the prospect, and now the reality, of Dylan’s holiday with his dad, has completely thrown me.

Although I am our son’s primary carer, Dylan’s dad looks after him regularly. I am used to time without Dylan. But there is something about holidays that makes them different from the rest of the year. Holidays are supposed to be happy, relaxing, memorable, times that families spend together. Maybe it’s little wonder that for lone-parents the whole experience can feel like a recipe for heartache and conflict.

What if, as in our case, the parent who is not the primary carer (and as a result, the one who still has a career and a salary to match) decides they want to take your children abroad? What if, again as in our case, the other parent has a new partner who is going too? Add to this the emotions that accompany going from being central to your children’s lives, to feeling suddenly superfluous (– for me it has felt like experiencing ‘empty-nest syndrome’ at least ten years too early!). Add also a dash of loneliness - because you probably haven’t kept up much of a social life, what with being in to look after your kids most nights. (Plus most of the friends you do have are likely to be other parents, and you probably won’t feel like squandering your all too rare adult time around their kids). Garnish this lot with the fact that many people won’t be sympathetic. (What? You’ve got a whole fortnight without the kids? You’re soooo lucky!). Then bake in an oven set to ‘don’t-show-the-kids-that-you-are-upset-instead-communicate-to-them-that-you-want-them-all-to-have-a-fabulous holiday!’. Hmmm…maybe it’s not surprising that for many of us, the prospect of holiday time without the children can set in motion an avalanche of conflicting feelings.

Not being able to lay my hands on the instruction manual (– you know the one that gets handed to you when you become a single parent…), I’ve been trawling the internet for advice. There’s lots of ad’s for holidays for single parents and their children (not helpful), lots of stuff about what to pack when you go away (ditto), but not a great deal about being left behind.

What can you do to help your child feel happy and confident about going away, when the whole idea makes you angry or sad? And what can you do to help yourself deal with your feelings and move on?

One thing I have discovered is that, as with most things, there is no magic formula - nor is there anything you can buy over-the-counter. (Sorry!) However, whilst we each need to find our own way through it, none of us are alone. Lots of people are experiencing similar things.

To read some ideas on things to think about before the children go, that have helped me, go to Making access visits easier. As much as anything else they are ‘notes to self’ (- reminders I should probably stick on the fridge). Feel free to use or discard. In addition, at the end of this article, there’s a link to a discussion group on this site where you can chat and share you own ideas.

Dylan is now away. We speak regularly on the phone. He’s having a great time. Yes, I’m looking forward to him coming back, but I’m also enjoying time to myself. Yesterday, I bumped into an exhausted two-parent-family mum friend. She is already counting down the days to the end of the school holidays. Seeing her made me think that, as long as I know Dylan is happy, time to myself, rather than feeling like a hurdle to be overcome, can just as easily feel like one of the perks of our situation.

Need ideas for when your children are away from home? Go to Top tips for things to do on your child-free days. One Space is hosting a discussion about holidays without your children Your Talk. If you want to comment on this article, share your own ideas or have a chat, pop over to Children going on holiday with your ex.

Author Kate Tregaskis is a single mum and occasional journalist and writer who is attempting, in various ways, to put her own experience of single parenthood into words!