Settling on a custody and visitation schedule can be the most difficult part of a divorce. Your kids are the most important part of your life, and it’s natural to want to fight for as much time with them as possible. However, when you consider issues of custody, you have to keep your children’s best interest as your top priority.
Here are five tips for making a co-parenting arrangement work for the kids in your life.
Give kids a voice.
Unless your children are very young, they will have preferences about where they want to spend their time. While custody arrangements are not decided by children, it’s important to make them feel that their opinions are valued.Talk to your kids about splitting time between Mom’s house and Dad’s. Are there particular nights of the week that your child has sports or another activity? Are you being sure to take this into account when you plan the schedule? Divorce can shake a child’s life to the core. It’s important to keep as much consistency in their lives as possible. They shouldn’t be forced to give up activities because of the divorce. When a family is going through turmoil, children often feel like they have no control. Giving them a voice will help them cope. However, do not sign-up your child for activities with the intent interfere with your ex-spouse’s parenting time.
Build up the other parent.
No matter how angry you are at your ex, you owe it to your child to speak kindly about the other parent. You should never criticize your ex in front of your child, and you should take every opportunity to express positive thoughts about your ex. Children who grow up with divorced parents almost always report that the best thing their parents did for them was to refrain from bashing the other parent. Children who were not lucky enough to have that experience often say it was the worst part of the divorce. Loving your children means respecting their relationship with your ex. That person is still their parent, and you owe it to them to be careful what you say.
Make transitions smooth.
The move from one house to another can be a very stressful time for children. Make this time as easy as possible on your kids by planning your strategy in advance. Transitions should occur during a time of day when your child is rested and relaxed. When you leave your child, say goodbye without being overly emotional. Do not make your children feel guilty for leaving you or communicate that you are afraid for their safety when with the other parent. Be friendly toward your ex in front of your child. If you can’t be civil, don’t see your ex-spouse. Instead, plan to have the other parent pick the child up from school or a babysitter. You can also ask a third party, like a friend or grandparent, to take the child from one house to the other.
Ideally, your custody arrangements will be fluid enough to accommodate special activities. Your child shouldn’t have to miss out on family events because of the schedule. Avoid keeping time and counting hours. For example, if your child spends an extra night of the week at your ex’s house to attend a family party, don’t demand that you get a different day as make-up time. If you find that you are keeping track of hours, something is wrong. Don’t make your children feel like they owe you time.
Be as consistent as possible.
Unfortunately, divorce means that your children are going to have to adjust to the rules and rhythms of two different households. Recognize how difficult this is, and demonstrate patience. If possible, work with your ex to create rules that are consistent to each household. For example, agree on guidelines for bedtime and screen time. If a child has lost a privilege for misbehavior at one home, ideally that discipline will carry over to the other home as well. Be respectful of the way your spouse parents, particularly in front of the kids. If you disagree with a parenting decision your spouse has made, have a conversation about it when the children are not present.
Co-parenting means that you will continue to raise your children together even if you are no longer a couple. This is a very difficult thing for divorced people to do, but it is vital to the mental health of your kids. Communicate with your ex about parenting and talk about challenges. Remember that your ex may not be your partner anymore, but that person is your child’s other parent. Loving your children means respecting that relationship. If you have any questions about custody and divorce, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free initial consultation at (201) 845-7400.