“I want to stay with you!” Few words capture and wound parent’s hearts more.
Divorced parents’ hardest moments often come when children load their duffel bag to head to the other parent’s house.
Whether the stay is overnight or for weeks, no parent likes missing time with their children.
When children struggle with leaving, their parents’ pain goes even deeper.
The best parenting plans:
- ease transitions,
- deepen relationships with both parents, and
- preserve the important moments for everyone.
Mediators help parents design parenting plans to meet these goals. Key questions for shaping plans include:
How do we best accommodate our children’s needs?
Children’s needs change over time. Plans designed around a child’s developmental stage help ensure each child gets the time he needs. . . . .in the way he needs it.
Very young children-–up to 5 years of age–need frequent contact with each parent. Children should spend time with each parent at least every other day, if not every day. The time doesn’t have to be long–just frequent and consistent.
- one parent enjoys morning time before daycare and the other picks up for after care
- one parent keeps their child during the day and the other takes the evenings and overnights
- parents use a 2 days on-2 days off rotation so their child sees each parent at least every other day
When parents understand their child’s need for frequent time, they get creative. That creativity ensures better care.
Older children–ages 5 through 11–can typically adjust to more time between visits but they need the visit to last longer. Children at this stage need to settle in with Mom or Dad. Develop a routine. Reconnect at their own pace.
Children this stage struggle most with transitions to their other home. Once settled, they resist starting over again. Parents’ strategic support makes the move easier. Elements include:
- Children should have their own place to sleep at each parent’s house.
- Each parent should provide a study space suited to their child’s learning style.
- Parents should make themselves available early in the visit–but adapt interactions to their child’s emotional timetable.
- Parents should include pictures of the other parent in their home. This eases their child’s pain of missing the other parent.
- Parents should be aware of school assignments and team practices. Children then trust that changing houses won’t mean something gets missed.
Children at this stage feel the practical impact of moving between houses most keenly. They must remember school assignments, sports equipment, and musical instruments. All before their brains are sufficiently developed to track so many details. No child wants to face the embarrassment of the math assignment or violin sitting at their other house.
Parents ease the transition by helping children find a system to remember everything they will need. Confident children change homes more easily.
Adolescents crave time with parents. They need each parent’s guidance, affirmation, and support as they move from childhood to adult.
Yet, teens also work. They have friends. They go to practice. These competing priorities complicate parents’ time with their children.
The key to success? Include teens in the planning. Parents who honor all the elements of their child’s life invite their child’s engagement with them.
At the same time, both parents also need to be clear that time with each of them is a priority. This unified focus on building relationships in both homes makes clear, “Your busy schedule must include time with each of us.”
Fortunately, teens can maintain close relationships even when there is longer time apart. Summer vacations and school breaks often prove key to balancing time between parents.
How do we preserve routine?
Parents offer different styles. Different strengths. Different goals for life. All these benefit children. Children combine the best of each parent to create a range of skills and perspectives.
Children also need routine. Parents ease transitions between houses when they follow, as closely as possible, the same patterns. Routines include items such as:
- Homework times and settings
- Practice schedules
- Discipline consequences
- Limits on phones, television, or music
When parents join forces to reflect each other’s homes in these key areas, life becomes predictable for children.
Children’s bodies develop a natural rhythm for sleeping, eating, and concentrating on homework. A rhythm that flows from house to house.
Consistent rules mean children know how to behave. Which makes parenting easier for both Mom and Dad.
Children develop a set of core values reflected in both homes. These help children make decisions that work in both houses.
When parents share routines, they make life easier for their children. When life is easier, children happily move between houses and readily engage with both parents.
How do we support each other?
“My sister came to town unexpectedly. Joe let the kids stay two extra nights to see their cousins. We were all so grateful.”
When parents set aside their “right” to time with their children–and focus instead on the best for their children–parents win, too.
Parents who feel supported relax. They intentionally build on each other’s strengths. They share the parenting load.
Likewise, children transition readily between parents who respect each other. They feel like people–not property. They learn that, in either house, they will spend time with one of the two people who love them most. That assurance causes children to look forward to time with each parent.
The best parenting plans accommodate children’s needs. Share routines. Open opportunities for parents to support each other.
If you would like help creating a parenting plan that works for your family, call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We look forward to serving you.
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