Parenting Plans Part 2: The Top Dozen Parenting Issues in Divorce

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We are a family even if we live in two homes.
Whether you are married or divorced, children need both parents to be active, loving, and involved in their children’s lives. You are the only and the best mom or dad your children will ever have.

Now that you and your spouse are living in separate places, remaining involved in your children’s lives is likely to be more complicated. But it can still be accomplished. These are the top parenting issues in divorce that come up in my mediation sessions with clients.

Building New Parenting Skills

1. Parents Need a Plan: A parenting plan is not just good for the children but is also essential for parents. Know how to plan your week taking into account where the kids are. Having no plan causes more conflict and extra calls to the other parent asking what the plan is. (See Resources below for links to helpful checklists.)

2. We’ll Let the Kids Decide: The children don’t want to decide the parenting plan, no matter what they say. When asked to choose, they will feel conflicted and worry that they are hurting Mom or Dad. There are good ways to secure their input, but it’s the parents’ responsibility to create the parenting plan.

3. Parents Do Flourish: In most homes, there is an organizer and list-maker for all the things the children need. Sharing that responsibility with the other parent is very worrisome. How will the kids get dressed, hair combed, homework done, and be well fed? What I have seen in my practice is that parents flourish. They quickly pick up new skills to provide a great environment for the kids. Often the disciplinarian lightens up; the play parent develops more organization and routine. As a result, the kids thrive.

4. No Surprises: The best co-parenting is one without surprises. If the children are the messengers of one parent’s new adult relationship or even a big planned trip, the shocked look on Mom or Dad’s face will make the child think they have done something wrong. Give the other parent information directly, especially if you think it will be an issue. This is not about privacy but about the kids feeling safe to share information and know that Mom and Dad are still communicating.

Transitions Between Parents

5. Transitions Between Parents’ Homes: A lot of research suggests that younger children can tolerate more transitions between homes and benefit from seeing each parent more frequently. As they get older (starting school), children can tolerate and even prefer longer stretches with each parent.

6. Parents’ Proximity to Each Other: Nothing causes more conflict and makes kids crankier than long rides between parents, especially in the winter (here in the northeastern US). Keep a reasonable distance between residences to ease conflict and make spontaneity with your children a possibility.

7. Not More Than 3 Nights: The parenting plan lays out how much time and when each child spends time with each parent. Regardless of those details, most parents want to arrange a meal or quality time of 2-3 hours with their children after spending three nights apart from them. Building in regular “touch time” is very beneficial.

8. I Don’t Want to Go to Mom’s/Dad’s: It is heartbreaking when kids cling to a parent. It happens with child care, kindergarten, camp, and school buses. Kids do not like change any more than parents. When it comes to maintaining the parenting schedule, this is where parents need a united front. Just like going to school, parents have to set forth an expectation that this is the way it is. With a few extreme exceptions, it’s best for kids to stick with the schedule. Otherwise, the parenting schedule will be based on their protests. It’s wise to give it at least three months so things can settle into a routine. Just like childcare, you have to give it time. Off-line, and not while a child is protesting, Mom and Dad can discuss options and consider alternatives if needed.

9. Use It or Lose It: Parents often imagine that trading weekends or days will be easily accomplished. Also, most parents want the “right of first refusal.” They want to have the first option to be with the kids before third parties are asked.

Providing coverage is different from trading a weekend or day; it’s important to be clear with each on the agreement surrounding the request.

For instance, if you have a social commitment for the Saturday of your parenting weekend, you might ask the other parent to cover the day or weekend. Are you expecting that the other parent will give up their next parenting weekend to you, which can cause considerable disruptions in their plans? Also, does it mean they get the kids three weekends in a row? Work it out together in advance to keep expectations clear.

10. The Kids Keep Forgetting Stuff: Here’s where parents need an extra dose of patience, and, hopefully, access to the other parent’s home. It really is organizationally hard to keep track of everything (even in one home). This is also where parents can make a difference in the ease and adjustment for their children going from home to home.

It really is up to the parents to create a routine that minimizes “forgetting.” Yelling or blaming the kids for forgetting things all the time is often a bubbling over of your own resentment and frustration at the circumstances of your life. This is an area where kids often report a lot of resentment and frustration.

Adjustments and Changes in Your Relationships with Your Children

11. The Agreement is Not Your Authority: Too often I hear parents report that they told the kids they (the parent) had to do something “because it’s in the agreement.” Children need to understand that their parents are the authority and not a piece of paper. Children need to trust that both parents know what’s best for them. The best parenting plans work because the plans work well for both parents.

12. Don’t Believe Everything You Hear: When you hear something from the kids or well-intentioned friends that sounds alarming (or even unacceptable), go into Neutral rather than Drive. Make a pact with your ex-spouse that you will both report the concern (without accusation) and ask the other for clarification. Neutral sounds like this: “Johnny reported that he was left alone for 2 hours yesterday, and I thought I would follow-up.”

Conflict Management Is a Key Parenting Skill

The research is very clear that the number one issue that causes harm to children is conflict between the two people they love the most, Mom and Dad.

Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said: “People [children] may not remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel.” Your children need to feel that they can love both their parents without conditions. They need to feel safe to share all of their worries and concerns. Parenting in separate, healthy, loving homes, no matter what the parenting plan, will work for your children.

Resources About Parenting During Divorce

Photo credit: © 2015 Mary Anne Shew

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