There they were – their hair whipping around them and their laughter intensifying with the bump of every new wave as we soared across Table Rock Lake. Water sprayed up into our faces serving as a brief respite from the 90+ degree heat bearing down on us. We didn’t care about our messy tangled hair, our wet swimsuits, or the heat index. We were on summer vacation without a care in the world and we had nothing but time to enjoy ourselves.
And yet vacations can be an uncomfortable reminder of your familial status being less than before. It sneaks up in the tiniest of places: being reminded of a family vacation pre-divorce doing a similar vacation activity, or a comment reflecting that the missing parent would really enjoy this, or in simply being surrounded by several “whole” families. The divorce ghost seems to be just beyond the bend.
My eldest daughter once told me that the thing she liked least about having divorced parents was vacation. She explained that whenever she experiences something new or sees something amazing, she misses the other parent seeing what she sees. I have felt the same thing when wanting their dad to see them learn how to play a summer vacation card game that has been passed down for generations in my family. Or what about when they ooo’d and ahh’d during our cave exploration. I feel that inevitable tinge of sadness like a whisper over my shoulder when I would have otherwise turned to him to smile in mutual satisfaction at seeing our daughters happy.
Add to the sadness, being a single parent on vacation is a particular post-divorce parenting challenge. As any parent can tell you, kids on vacation require a whole new level of parenting wrought with balancing extended bedtimes, sugar-filled diets, and unstoppable youth-filled enthusiasm constantly asking about the next fun thing. Take those normal vacation vexes and remove one adult assisting with managing all of that energy and let’s just say that the sheer will of getting through vacation as a single parent can lead to regretful woe-is-me moments.
I have been through a few family vacations since being divorced and have found that the best prescription for these unique vacation vulnerabilities is to be present. Always. Look at your children enjoying themselves despite the fact that their family at one time became fractured. Watch them well up with wonder at the new sites being explored. The beauty of vacation is getting away from “regular” life so as to invite in new experiences. Pay attention to that. If you are truly present, you will no longer feel those gnawing negatives and will instead find yourself relaxing into a new state of mind and you will see that your family is now as complete as it needs to be.