Where does a coParent start when thinking about creating a parenting plan? There are many things to consider first and take into account.
- Minimize loss: For children, divorce is about loss, separation and divorce of their parents means losing home, family life, loving parents who care about each other, pets, financial security, familiar schools, friends, and a daily routine.
- Maximize relationships: 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 they belong to both families. If possible, share the responsibilities (doctors’ appointments, transportation) and the joyous events (holidays, movies, birthday parties) equally with the other parent.
- 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.
- Increase Security: 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.
- Age-Related Needs: Children of different ages need and benefit from different parenting arrangements. Parents should try to be flexible, tailoring schedules as much as possible to reflect their child’s developmental needs. 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 and cooperation between parents is 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.
Review and possibly revise the parenting plan at these points:
• A child starts school
• A child’s schedule changes
• A parent remarries
• Any family member experiences any major change
From COPARENTING AFTER DIVORCE: A GPS FOR HEALTHY KIDS by Debra K. Carter, PhD; Unhooked Books.