Creating a Parenting Plan
Where does a coParent start when thinking about creating a parenting plan? Before jumping into creating your parenting plan, make sure you are considering the factors at play:
For children of divorce or a breakup, this time is about loss and separation. The separation of parents means losing the stability of their home, family life, loving parents who care about each other, pets, financial security, familiar schools, friends, and a daily routine. The parenting plan must take your children’s emotional state into account.
In your parenting plan, encourage all relationships the children had before the separation (with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and so on). Your children will continue to feel connected to family when they have pleasant, free access to both parents and both extended families. Your children’s identity depends on their feeling that they belong to both families. If possible, share the responsibilities (doctors’ appointments, transportation) and the joyous events (holidays, movies, birthday parties) equally with your coParent.
Protect your child’s feelings
Children need to hear that they are not responsible for the separation. However, try to avoid blaming the other parent for the separation, as this forces children to “take sides.” Let your children be children: Don’t confide in them or share details of adult relationships. Children may say that they don’t mind listening, but they may later feel confused and resentful. Children are harmed when they hear one parent say bad things about the other parent.
Scientific research confirms that children will suffer now and later if they frequently see their parents in conflict. Raised voices, arguing, hateful remarks, and physical fights are not good for your children to see or hear. Do not discuss adult issues at the time of transfers or at other times when the child is present. If you and your coParent are in a difficult separation, make sure your parenting plan anticipates potential arguments and create rules and boundaries around high-conflict topics.
Children of different ages need and benefit from different parenting arrangements. In your parenting plan, you should try to be flexible, tailoring schedules as much as possible to reflect their child’s developmental needs. What your early schooler needed may not be what he/she needs as an older adolescent. Expect to be more flexible as your child gets older. It is just a fact of life that life gets more complicated as children grow older—more activities, more friends, just more going on overall.
In any parenting plan, it is important to remember that children develop best when both parents have meaningful and stable involvement in their children’s lives. Each parent has a different and valuable contribution to make to the children’s development. For younger children especially, it is better that they spend more time with parents and less time with other caregivers, if possible.
Communication within a parenting plan
Communication and cooperation between parents are important. Not always easy, but important. Having consistent rules in both households and sharing knowledge of events creates a sense of security for children of all ages. Households must discuss and plan school activities and other events.
If children are allowed to bring their personal items back and forth between the households, they develop a better sense of ownership and responsibility. Parents should purchase special things for the children but not merely for their own household.
Revising your parenting plan
As your child grows and changes, your parenting plan should as well. Review and possibly revise the parenting plan at these points:
- A child’s schedule changes
- Any family member experiences any major change
From COPARENTING AFTER DIVORCE: A GPS FOR HEALTHY KIDS by Debra K. Carter, PhD; Unhooked Books.