How to make summer visits a success

Tuesday, July 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Noncustodial parents face a sometimes-frightening summer when the kids come to visit. What do they like? How have they changed? How do they feel?

There are a number of things part-time parents can do to prepare and help things go well.

Family law expert Mike McCurley, former president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, helped craft a book of tips for divorcing parents.

Mr. McCurley, a partner in the Dallas firm of McCurley Kinser McCurley & Nelson, says the key for noncustodial parents is to try to strike a balance between making the summer normal - as in life as usual - and special.

During the visit, you "want the child to see you as a person - as you really are. You may want to plan a vacation together, but maybe you should also attend church or take the child to the office for a day. If you have a blended family, you need private one-on-one time to check in and bond.

"An intact family takes hard work. A divided family takes twice as much work. A divided family separated by geography takes four times as much work.

"One of the most important things to remember is that this is not Mom's time and it's not Dad's time. It's the child's time. And we need to bolster that."

Another local expert, Margaret Tresch Owen, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Dallas, offers some additional tips.

She suggests going slowly and getting reacquainted. "Don't push for intimacy right away," she says. She says that you should be prepared for arguments, because part of being a family is learning how to work out and negotiate differences.

Parent Chris Kerr of Plano says it helps to have the kids prepare lists of things they want to do. You may not do everything on their lists, but it gets the kids excited and helps you find out what they like to do. He also suggests taking pictures and making sure the children have them at both homes.

Melissa Langhammer of Bedford encourages finding activities that foster talking, such as fishing, Rollerblading and Monopoly.

It also will help the visit if you maintain communication throughout the year - show you care.

Finally, whether you are a single parent or a stepparent, you are not alone. Find a support group.