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It's getting to be that time of year again: the summer visit with the other parent. It's a difficult time emotionally and mentally for everyone. When parents separate, the children are in the middle to be shared in some reasonable fashion. It's not always easy for the parents to come to happy terms. A basic rule to follow is do what is best for the child.

This parental summer shuffle is a very difficult time at first and many battles ensue from disagreements over the arrangements. In some cases, courts and psychologists have to be involved in making arrangements. It is very expensive and hurtful for everyone to go this route. As difficult as it is to part with your precious child for a visit, it's even harder to have to put them alone on an airplane. Parents have to come to terms with many issues. The earlier years are the most difficult times to get through. There will always be some mistakes made along the way. I hope these guidelines can help others to make wise and appropriate decisions in planning their child's visits.

Some basic guidelines to follow:

1. If you have a court ordered visit schedule, follow it. You risk losing your child if you deprive the other parent of his or her parental rights. All parents need to realize that the child has the legal right to spend time with both parents.

2. Make visitation arrangements to meet the age, maturity and comfort level of the child. If you are not sure of what is right then seek the advice of a professional for an evaluation. It's important the child feels comfortable and safe.

3. If you have concerns over the visit try to calmly discuss them with the other parent. If this is an impossible situation get the assistance of mediation through the court systems. You can find low cost or free assistance by checking with your local United Way for phone numbers. When you find a mediator ask if they will mediate by phone, if one parent lives out of state. If there are factors above the normal situation and it has to be a court supported decision, they may send you to mediation anyway. Save time and money and try to work things out.

4. If a child has to fly alone to another state, ask the airlines what their arrangements are for unaccompanied children. Your child will be under the care of airline personnel. They will be responsible to tend to your child during and after the flight. Most airlines have a fee and it is well worth the cost for your peace of mind. At certain ages it is required. If the child has to change planes, even if he is a teen, they will escort your child to the next flight. I would not want my child left alone in some of the cities' airports, even as a teen. Try to get direct flights whenever possible.

5. Keep in mind your child's needs. Will a month be to long? Is a week long enough? Discuss the arrangements with the child. Assure him, he will be safe. Tell the child you will miss him. Assure the child that he will be coming back home again after the visit. A young child can be frightened and emotionally scarred by the wrong decisions or by a parent's anger or fears.

6. Give the child your phone number. Show a young child him how to dial the number long distance. Assure him it's all right to call if he needs to talk to you. If the expense may be an issue with the other parent, ask the child to call you collect or give him a prepaid phone card. Don't encourage a daily phone call. Make arrangements with the other parent to at least have a prearranged phone call once a week. Remember it's their time together.

7. Send the child with self-addressed stamped envelopes and paper, a few pictures, and some favorite toys or books to give the child a sense of security. If they feel homesick it might help them to have a picture of you or a pet. Don't be surprised or hurt if you never get a letter. Your child may be too busy having fun.

8. If you have difficulties dealing with your ex and don't communicate very well, send a letter with your child on any important instructions concerning medications, allergies, diet or behavior problems. Keep it simple and direct and don't put in any gripes or emotions. Your point is to get across important needed information on your child, not to ask about the child support check. If either parent has a new spouse, he or she may be willing to act as a go-between to make it a happier and comfortable visit for your child. Remember that they are in this situation also.

9. Keep your cool. Your child will be back sooner then you realize. Enjoy your free time by catching up on the things you need to do, but have been putting off. Keep yourself busy with fun activities. Your child isn't going to stop loving you. It's highly unlikely that you will have your child call and say he would rather live with the other parent. Don't stress yourself out thinking the worst is going to happen.

10. When your child comes home don't ask him for information on what went on in your ex's household. Give the child a chance to change gears and settle in. If there is anything worth being said he will tell you in his own time. A child may feel loyalty to shelter both parents. It isn't fair to put the child in the middle of your disputes or concerns. Most courts offer Children in the Middle classes for parents. It's a requirement in many states for parents battling for custody or visitation rights.

The first few visits are the most difficult. It gets easier to handle once you realize your child is safe and happy with seeing both parents. It is the child's legal right to have both of his parents in his life. Let the child enjoy his visit with the other parent. Help to make it a happy and memorable time for him or her.