Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
By Susan Solomon Yen
Our most memorable summer vacation as a family was a cross-country trip from Boston to California. We landed at LAX and visited all the Southern California landmarks — Hollywood, Universal Studios and Disneyland — before heading north to San Francisco where our oldest son had just moved. It was two weeks of family togetherness. Well, we certainly appeared to be together, but the truth is my husband and I were already living apart.
Even though his home was 30 miles from the children and me, he often visited on weekends. This was not the only time we traveled as a family during this tumultuous period. I think he was still conflicted and maybe a little guilty about leaving us. Perhaps these shared vacations were his way of saying he wasn’t ready to abandon us completely. If the children had any expectation that Mom and Dad were getting back together because we were on a vacation, they did not reveal it.
Shortly after returning home, we legalized our separation and within the year began divorce proceedings. Since then the vacations we have taken have been separate.
Traveling on Our Own
One of my proudest moments as a mother took place when I was still married. My husband, who was on a trip to Asia, had a stopover in Paris and asked me to bring the children and meet him there. Our three oldest boys were two, four and seven at the time. I was nervous about making this trip, but I had been to France before and spoke passable French.
The boys and I spent four days on our own. In one of those “what was I thinking” moments I even let the seven- and four-year-old walk to the patisserie for bread and chocolate by themselves. It was pre-9/11.
Several years later the children and I took another solo trip from Boston to California. The two youngest and I clocked 1,600 miles on a rental car traversing south to north again.
But I am a nervous traveler and I’m not very adventurous. I also had to work during that season when my kids were on school break, so for my children to truly enjoy summer vacations, I had to ask friends to include them in their own plans.
For two summers, my daughter went to New Hampshire with a large family who somehow managed to squeeze her into the car amidst luggage, toys and water gear. My youngest son, Jake, went to Michigan for six weeks with one of his best friends. In later years, he flew on his own from Boston to San Francisco to join his oldest brother in a celebration of their shared birthdays.
From Visitation to Vacation
While I missed my children, I did not worry about them while they were away. We communicated often and I trusted the families they were with. I wish I could say the same about the trips Jake took with his dad. By the time we divorced, most of my children were independent college students. Only Jake was still at home and still connected to his father. Unfortunately, our communication had just about completely broken down. When he took Jake on vacations, he did not tell me where they were going or when they would return. Needless to say, I was not comfortable with this and eventually the visitation agreement was changed.
San Mateo-based family and marriage therapist Sarah Proemsey encourages parents to respect each other and to keep those lines of communication open. “I think it is important for parents to continue to function as a team when it comes to parenting. That means making some decisions together because you are keeping in mind the needs of the child.”
Proemsey continues, “Having the stage set for healthy communication allows the child to be a part of this process, which will increase their feelings of safety.”
And I would add, confidence in the parent who is traveling with the child. “When divorce is in the picture, it is even more important for the parents to exemplify respect and cooperation for the good of the family. Having this healthy system in place is fundamental and makes it easier to do things like vacationing with trust,” says Proemsey.
Time and Travel
It took a while to choose which week to travel this summer. Jake has a summer job so probably won’t be going anywhere. He will once again celebrate his birthday with his brother, but they live in the same state now. I’m going to San Diego with my daughter. Their father? He’s in Paris again—with his new family.