Putting Your Kids First While Sharing Parenting Time
Your former spouse, no matter how difficult they were to live with, is still your children’s other parent. The kids weren’t the ones who decided on the divorce; in fact, they didn’t get a choice in the matter at all. Even if there are lingering hard feelings toward a parent who made some poor choices, your kids are going to be visiting with that parent on a regular basis for years to come. Learning strategies for effective co-parenting is critical to lessening the negative effects of divorce on children and keeping them happy during this difficult transition. This means preparing yourself to handle a number of unexpected situations that can (and will) come up and interrupt the normal parenting schedule.
Consider Some Potentially Difficult Scenarios
As you’re working out visitation schedules, remember that it’s never as simple as, “Oh, the kids will spend every other weekend with their father.” There will always be activities, special events, and holidays that shake up the routine and make it difficult for everyone to stick to it. Decide in advance how you’re going to handle a wide range of different events. It’s not just about holidays; it’s also about:
- Birthday parties, sleepovers, and other invitations to go with friends
- Kids’ birthdays and holidays—For example, what happens if Mother’s Day or Father’s Day falls on the weekend that the opposite parent has the kids?
- Big sports games or extracurricular activities, especially away games and trips
- Illnesses and injuries—What happens if the kids are sick on their weekend to go to Dad’s? Should they stay with Mom, or do they go anyway? What would the kids prefer to do in this scenario?
Think It Through
Keep in mind that it’s going to be necessary to make compromises along the way. It sounds easy to say, “Well, it’s Dad’s weekend, so the kids are going to go there. She can spend the night with her friend next weekend.” It’s harder when it’s a best friend’s “special” birthday sleepover or a major event that your child has been looking forward to for weeks: a big Girl Scout sleepover; a school trip that stretches over the weekend; a sports competition that requires being gone overnight. Developing a plan ahead of time gives you a template for how to handle these situations when they arise, preventing any emotional, knee-jerk reactions that may spoil the kids’ fun.
Be Fair to Both Parties
Whether the custody arrangement states that Dad has the kids every other week or he only gets them every other weekend, it’s important to consider the needs of both parties as you’re developing your plan for those unexpected interruptions in your schedule. For example, if Dad only has the kids every other weekend, a slumber party or away game that prevents his child from coming to his house may mean that he goes a month in between visits—and that’s not fair to him. On the other hand, completely disrupting the visitation schedule may also not be an option, depending on the circumstances. Consider options that will help everyone meet in the middle, such as:
- Dinner out with the parent who doesn’t have primary custody one evening next week. This will give them a chance to visit and spend time with the kids without completely disrupting everyone’s schedule.
- Swap weekends if schedules permit. Is one of your children headed to her friend’s house on Friday night? See if the other parent is amenable to taking the kids next weekend, instead. It doesn’t have to be a permanent switch, especially if you’ve already made arrangements for vacations and other major events.
- Look for ways to salvage the weekend. If it’s one night away, it might not be such a big deal. There’s still plenty of weekend left, and that means plenty of chances for fun!
When considering the unexpected events that can quickly take over your parenting time, the most important thing is to put the kids first and keep your egos out of the equation. Your children likely aren’t choosing one parent over the other or snubbing the noncustodial parent because an important event simply happens to be on “their” weekend. They’re just living their lives in spite of the divorce, and that’s exactly what you should both want.
Lessening the negative effects of divorce on children requires patience, understanding, and total support from both parents. If you’re looking for more information about co-parenting strategies that will make coping with the aftermath of divorce easier, click here to see how we can help.
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