Here are the top tips for managing parenting schedules for your children and aligning with your coParent. These tips can be used while creating a new parenting plan or making adjustments to your existing plan.
Stability First/Flexibility Second
Slowing down all the change during the first six months to a year, settling into a pattern that’s predictable and allowing your children a feeling of mastery over their whereabouts has great value. Do what you can at the front end to balance parental needs, unanticipated schedule changes, and children’s predictability needs. Err on the side of holding to the schedule when possible.
Trading Time/Covering Time
Parents also work together to manage changes in residential schedules through trading time and covering time. “Trading time” refers to exchanging residential time for equal residential time. This means: weekend time for weekend time, and weekday/ evening/night time for weekday/evening/night time. It’s not hours for hours, but rather similar quality of time. Evenings during the school week have a different quality from weekend day times. Trades are negotiated, keeping in mind that these are requests and not mandatory. You’ll work out how you do trades together.
Similarly, “covering time” refers to offering your coParent the opportunity to be with the children in lieu of babysitters without any request to trade. (If you and your coParent are regularly trading or covering time in an ongoing way, you may want to consult with your legal team about potential impact on your parenting plan or renegotiate your residential schedule).
“But I Have to Work”
Your coParent is not “on call” for you, or your back-up unless expressly agreed upon. Be respectful of each other’s time. Making and keeping commitments regarding schedule and time is important for your coParenting relationship — vital if you or your coParent need to show up to work on time or other important commitments —and for your kids sense of security. Being “on duty” per your residential schedule is all part of the formal business contract that you two designed to ensure the well-being of your children.
Right of First Refusal
This is a term found in some Parenting Plans that refers to a requirement that the residential parent must offer residential time to the other parent before contracting for childcare with a babysitter or any third party. Sometimes there’s a specific amount of time that triggers the right of first refusal, for example, “over four hours” or “overnights.” If this is part of your parenting plan agreements, as with any contractual arrangement, keep your agreements with integrity. If you’re wondering if this should be a part of your parenting plan agreements, we would offer this consideration: when you’re getting along with your coParent, you will generally want him/her to care for the kids whenever reasonable (exception: when Grandma wants a special chance to have Junior with her). When you’re in conflict and not getting along with your coParent, the right of first refusal often results in fighting — or another tension filled transition for your children. Please seriously consider the short and long-term implications of tying yourselves together and limiting your choices through a provision like right of first refusal.
“Mom, Can MacKenzie Babysit Us?”
Children who move back and forth between parents on a regular basis can benefit from the fun and familiarity of a babysitter without facing another transition. We encourage coParents to recognize the value of good judgment and allowing each other some privacy. Rather than counting hours you could be with your children when they are left with a babysitter during your coParent’s residential time, relax and trust that the use of competent babysitters can enhance your children’s sense of home and normalcy. Allowing grandparents the chance to provide childcare in a parent’s absence creates the opportunity for a secure sense of extended family.
“Dad, Can We just Stop at Mom’s and Pick Up…”
Establishing boundaries and teaching good guest protocols are part of raising children in a two-home family. Parents often ask if children should have keys to both parents’ homes and whether children should be encouraged to ‘just drop by’ the off-duty parent’s home. We take a practical approach to this complicated question. Yes, we want children to experience that both homes are theirs. However, if children learn right from the beginning that stopping by can happen only after:
1) Calling/texting first and,
2) Getting permission from the off-duty parent.
…then you’re never faced with kids dropping by at inconvenient or potentially adult-only times. Talk with your coParent; together you’ll establish what’s appropriate for each of your homes and individual comfort zones.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK. For more information on Karen or her book, visit http://coachmediateconsult.com/co-parents-handbook/