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A recent question I received: “My husband and I recently moved a long ways from our home state. It is now a 2 1/2 hour plane ride from my husband’s ex-wife’s house where his other child resides. His ex is afraid the travel will be hard on their 7-year-old son, so he should not come to visit. Do you have an opinion about plane travel for visitation?”
Air travel is hard on everybody these days, and expensive. But not seeing a parent is harder for a 7-year-old.
Most airlines allow unaccompanied minors to travel at around age 8, or even younger if the route is a direct or nonstop flight. A fee is involved in addition to the plane fare. A flight attendant will accompany the child to the next flight if there is a change of planes. The parent putting the child on the plane must fill out forms stating who is to pick up the child, and that person must present a photo ID before airline personnel will release the child.
If you travel during school vacations you will see lots of unaccompanied children easily identified by the big tags around their necks. Many of these children are visiting a non-custodial parent who lives in a distant city.
All of my grandchildren have flown “solo” to visit us. Some live more than 6 hours away including change of plane time. They all liked the adventure of it. It was fun to pack their backpacks with books, snacks, and games. They enjoyed the attention of the flight attendants as well as the other passengers. The last time the twins came to visit they proudly brought a temporary cell phone which one held on the outbound journey and the other on the return flight. This meant each one had the grown-up responsibility of turning the cell phone off before the plane started to taxi.
My suggestions for this 7-year-old boy whose life has changed is to recognize he is just a little boy, perhaps apprehensive about traveling alone. He is also suffering a loss. Dad is no longer living nearby.
Ideally for the first trip, his father would fly in to pick him up, accompany him to and from his new location, and fly home again. Costly in terms of dollars and Dad’s time but the best thing for his son, especially if he has never been on a plane before.
For the first year a reasonable plan might be an annual visit for the child to visit his father’s new home plus three weekend visits a year for the father to go see his son. If things go well try the traditional summer visit plus at least one school vacation a year.
In my experience adjusting to the father’s new home, wife, and step-siblings is harder than the plane trip. And indeed, I find children of divorce of necessity learn to travel well.
But divorce isn’t easy on children and we are in the midst of a divorce epidemic. I have already shared with my readers that well over a third of all the letters and email questions sent to me deal with some aspect of divorce.
I just saw a sad but extremely well done movie called “The Squid and The Whale” which deals with the effects of divorce on two brothers. Heartbreaking to watch but if you’re thinking about divorce vs counseling this movie could nudge you in the right direction. You might try to do everything you can to save your marriage or, failing that, to become civil and empathic post-divorce parents.
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