We all know that divorce is difficult. If you have ever traveled with young children, you also know that Spring Break can be difficult. Combine the two, and it can be a whirlwind of stress for a recently divorced parent.

Divorced (or divorcing) parents often struggle with Spring Break (or vacations, generally) because divorce may have left the parents financially drained; the parents might be sharing the children’s vacation time with an ex-spouse and therefore unable to travel for an extended time; and a parent might be traveling alone with the children for the first time without the assistance of the other parent. You might be feeling guilty that you cannot afford the quintessential trip to Disney World, Florida, or Mexico. You might be frustrated that your ex-spouse can afford to take the children to do things that maybe you cannot afford. It’s natural to feel this way and worry that your children will be somehow less excited about their vacation time with you if it’s not spent at Disney World eating $20.00 ice cream cones. Although it is natural to feel this way, you can choose to embrace a different perspective, and your children (and your wallet) will thank you for it.

Here are five tips to help you make vacation relaxing rather than a stress test.

(1) Remember, you do have control – the break will be what you make it. If you apologize for not taking the children to Disney, or worse, tell the children it’s the other parent’s fault that you cannot go to Disney, they will feel the disappointment you are trying to avoid them feeling. Instead of apologizing for what you are not doing, get them excited about what you are doing. If you are excited about having a good time, they will be excited and have a good time.

(2) Put your focus on time spent together, not the place. Most of us can recall awesome memories from our childhood vacations that have nothing to do with where we were or how expensive the hotel was. It’s about the jokes, the laughs, the snuggles, the joy of simply being together without the responsibilities of work or school. COVID helped us master the “stay-cation.” There are countless ideas, but here are a few:

  • Set up a week-long scavenger hunt in your area. Each morning greet your child with clues as to what you will do that day. Finish the week with a “big” surprise like a night at a local hotel with a pool or a pizza party with friends.
  • Set up a slide show of pictures of your child throughout the years and sit down to watch it together and talk about all of the ways you think your child is special – better yet, create the slideshow together.
  • Camp in your backyard. Make each day a “trip” to a different country by doing a virtual tour of a new country each day, cooking a meal together using the traditional foods from that country, and doing traditional activities from each country you “visit.”

(3) If you do travel – cut yourself some slack. Don’t put pressure on yourself to go somewhere exotic or expensive. It doesn’t have to be the Ritz Carlton. Most kids are completely happy to see new sights and eat bags of potato chips all day long in the car. Trust me, they really don’t care what the thread count of the sheets is. Pick a location where you can visit a friend or family to save on hotel costs. Keep it simple – state parks, national parks, visiting aunts and uncles, etc.

(4) If you are nervous about traveling alone with the children, enlist a family member to come with you, or better yet, travel with a group of other parents. It’s helpful to have other hands to assist and gives the children friends to play with. Just make sure that you are making time to do things on your own with your children alone because as much as they need social interaction, they need your undivided attention.

Which brings us to the most important suggestion of all:

(5) Unplug yourself. Your kids want you – not you on your phone. Do your best to actually unplug and not be returning work calls or surfing the internet while at the pool, camping, or wherever you are. This is what your kids want more than anything. Yes, believe it or not, they want your undivided attention – even more than they want those Mickey Mouse ears!