Mediation charity offers advice as schools close for the summer
The summer holidays can prove challenging for all families. Juggling childcare, entertaining the kids, and keeping them topped up with endless snacks over the six-week period can prove tough for even the most organised of parents.
For separated couples though it can be particularly hard.
According to the charity National Family Mediation (NFM), summer is one of the busiest periods for its national network of mediators, with parents who have split looking for help to put schedules in place, agree a budget for extra activities and holiday clubs, and to put in place ground rules for holidays abroad.
Here Jane Robey, CEO at NFM, provides insight into the most common conflicts, and offers her top tips on how to tackle them.
Create a Summer Parenting Schedule
Jane says that a parenting schedule is one of the most effective ways of managing expectations – both those of the parents, but also the children.
She said: “To allow a more visual aid consider using a parenting schedule, this can allow important dates to be flagged at the earliest convenience. Begin by plotting dates important to you and your children’s schedules, and then you can share it with your ex-partner allowing them to do the same.
“Having that agreement in place early on can help to ensure that everyone feels informed and can avoid misunderstandings.”
Don’t make promises you can’t keep
“Make sure you have a clear understanding of summer schedules before making plans with your children,” Jane cautions.
“The summer holidays are an exciting time for children with opportunities for days out and time off school, and by talking to your ex you can help avoid difficult situations where plans don’t come to fruition.”
Put your children first
“Thinking about what is best for your children, and helping the children feel safe and secure when creating summer parenting plans, is crucial to avoiding conflict now and in the future,” Jane explains.
“That means allowing them to spend time with your ex or extended family, where it is safe and appropriate to do so.
“Where negotiations are fraught, remember to make sure to keep your children away from arguments as this conflict will often be picked up by the children.”
Talk To Your Ex
“Even though this can feel like one of the hardest things to do, it is important to try to keep the lines of communication open wherever possible,” Jane says.
“If you find this difficult consider meeting your ex in a neutral environment such as a café, or in a park.
If you are prepared to meet up but worried things might get tense, try starting the conversation with the things you are in agreement about and work through plans in bite size chunks. That will help to ensure no one becomes overwhelmed by the situation.”
In the last 18 months National Family Mediation has helped more than 150 couples specifically relating to passport and travel matters, and dozens more who have mentioned passport and travel as part of wider concerns.
She said: “Holidays abroad are supposed to be fun and exciting, however, for couples in conflict, passports for the children and travel to another country can also be a contentious topic, and for a whole host of reasons.
“One or other parent might feel nervous about the kids going abroad without them, or with their ex’s new partner. Other people might begrudge their former spouse spending money on a trip away when they feel more should be going towards child support.
“Where possible, talk to your ex about your concerns and try to establish some ground rules that might make the situation easier. For example, regular video calls, only going for a limited period, or even only travelling to certain countries within the EU.
“Ultimately, you won’t want your children to miss out, so try to find a solution.”
Ask for help
Jane explains that to help families in this situation to settle matters as amicably as possible, the Government has launched a Family Mediation Voucher Scheme which funds up to £500 worth of mediation to discuss children matters using mediation providers such as National Family Mediation (NFM).
She said: “Help is out there, so don’t be afraid to take it.
“The £500 voucher means that mediation is accessible to anyone who wants to tackle their issues in a far more amicable, cost effective and productive way, regardless of financial status.”
NFM is a charity which helps families to sort arrangements for children, property, finance and other important matters following separation and divorce. In addition to the family mediation voucher scheme, Legal Aid also remains available for family mediation.