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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Summer Visitation

By Kimberly Blaker

With a visitation trip on the horizon, both kids and adults may feel a spectrum of emotions. When kids spend extended time with their non-custodial parent, everyone must shift from regular routines and structures. Other emotional challenges may also be involved.

Whether it’s the first summer visitation or another of many, each brings new changes. If the parents’ separation is recent, the situation may be tense. Even if your family has been doing summer visitations for some time, each year is different. New people may be involved, such as partners, stepparents, stepfamilies, or new half-siblings. One or both households may have moved to a new location. People can also change over a year, especially kids, as they grow, and relationships shift.

The best way to ensure a successful visit is to work together to plan, prepare, and create a positive environment around the visitation.

Children may feel a multitude of emotions about spending summer visitation with their non-custodial parent. They may feel bad about leaving their other parent behind, not want to spend time away from friends, pets, other siblings or family members, or just miss the familiarity of their primary room and possessions. 

Kids may also worry about spending time with people living in the non-custodial home, particularly if kids don’t know those individuals well. Different households have different rules and expectations, which may cause conflict. The following can help reduce anxieties and provide a more positive experience.

Maintain the relationship between kids and the non-custodial parent during physical separations. Stay in touch through text, phone calls, video chats, and shorter visits when possible. That way, everyone feels secure in their connection. Include stepparents and step- or half-siblings to build positive relationships.

Involve kids in planning visits. A visual calendar may be helpful, especially for younger kids. Talk to them about the itinerary and expectations in the other household. Coordinate with the other parent to keep consistencies where possible.

Give kids an opportunity to safely voice their feelings about the visit before, during, and after—while helping them see positives in the situation.

Children will probably experience homesickness. Talk to them about this ahead of time, so they expect it and know it’s normal. Also, make a plan, so they know what to do when they feel homesick. Allow kids to take some comfort items with them.

Custodial parents may feel more negative emotions like stress, anxiety, or sadness about their kids leaving for an extended period. As the custodial parent, you may be worried about your kids.

Recognize your emotions, both positive and negative, but try to avoid inflicting negative feelings, like guilt, onto your children. 

Make plans for yourself, so you have things to look forward to and ways to stay busy. Take advantage of extra time to focus on your relationship with yourself, friends, partner, or other children.

Help your kids pack to ensure they have everything they need. Don’t forget essential items like medications, glasses, retainers, and other personal care items.

Keep a record of important information about your children to share with their other parent. Not just health or medical information, but any other struggles or things going on with the child or their life that would be helpful to know.

Have a copy of the itinerary and contact information so you can reach your ex or children in an emergency.

Non-custodial parents may feel excited and apprehensive about everything going smoothly and making sure their kids enjoy their stay.

Have a special room or space for your kids when they visit and either prepare it for them with things they like or allow them to choose decorations or special items to help them feel at home.

Focus on quality time over expensive or extravagant gifts or experiences. Find ways to connect with your children and participate in their interests or those that you share to help your kids feel seen, heard, and valued.

Expect an adjustment period and big emotions from your kids when they arrive. Understand it’s likely not about you, but instead about their own complicated feelings.

Prepare other children living in your house, stepchildren, or ones with a new partner, and support them in connecting with your children without forcing it. Make time for them and include them, so they don’t resent the visiting children for taking your attention.

Ensure you have all the vital information about your children’s health and medical needs in case of an emergency.

Stepparents may be unsure how to prepare for summer visitation with their stepchild and worry it might be difficult if the relationship is new or tense. Stepkids may see you as an interloper in their relationship with their parent.

If the relationship is challenging, try not to take it personally. Kids have more difficulty understanding and regulating complicated emotions. They may feel more comfortable taking their frustrations out on you instead of their parents.

Remember, you chose to be with someone who has children. Find things that you love about your partner in their children and ways to connect with them or their interests. 

Be open to creating a relationship with your stepchildren, but don’t force it. They may take a while to warm up to someone new, especially if they’re jealous of your relationship with their parent.

Suggest opportunities for your partner and their child to have special time to themselves, especially at the beginning of the visit.

When parents have a shared custody arrangement, it’s good for everyone to support children in having positive interactions and building healthy relationships with both parents as well as stepparents. With a bit of preparation and cooperation, summer visitation can be a special part of creating a stronger bond and helping children thrive.

Kimberly Blaker is a freelance writer. She also owns an online bookshop, Sage Rare & Collectible Books, specializing in out-of-print, scarce, signed, and first editions; fine bindings; ephemera and more at