After my divorce, my two children (now grown) spent close to equal time with both myself and their father. During a nine year period, they experienced many transitions including a new stepfather, stepmother, and the birth of their sister, who is now twenty-one. My experience with shared parenting was positive because I observed my children maintain a close bond with both me and my ex and grow into successful adults. My research shows that adults raised in divorced families report higher self-esteem and better psychological health as adults if they had close to equal time with both parents.
First of all, it’s paramount that you gear your parenting plan to the age of your children and that you are consistent with it. At the end of this article I offer guidelines for parents with both younger and older children. Try your best to develop routines for them leaving and coming home when they are young. When they get older, you may not need these routines to be set in stone. Opening up lines of communication with your children about their parenting plan is beneficial because they’ll know what is expected of them and it can ensure smooth transitions.
Truth be told, communication with your ex is crucial to successful co-parenting. It’s a good idea to sit down with your ex and come up with a few strategies to encourage your children to cooperate with their “parenting time” schedule. For instance, you may decide to make different arrangements for drop off and pick up. Most importantly, it’s key that your children see that you and your former spouse are working together for their well-being.
Next, you may need to examine the “parenting time” schedule to make sure that it’s working for your children. For example, the younger child will adjust better if they are not transitioning between houses too frequently and adolescents usually want more control over their schedule due to school, activities, and time with friends. They may develop resentment toward you if they can’t make some decisions about their schedule.
Many children of divorce I’ve interviewed describe the pressure of loyalty conflicts. Karen, a lively twelve year old speaks honestly about her struggle to cope with divided loyalties since age nine. She recalls: “It was really hard to live in my parents two worlds. They disagreed a lot, and I just never wanted to take sides.”
Loyalty conflicts can make some kids feel as if they don’t want to spend time with both of their parents. Karen continues, “I felt like I had to keep secrets because my mom didn’t know my dad had a girlfriend.” Karen’s story reminds us that children should never have to choose between their parents after divorce or be put in the middle. Let your kids enjoy their childhood and think about how you want them to remember you when they grow up.
Ways to help your child to be successful at living in two homes:
For the child under age 10:
- Reassure your children that they have two parents who love them. If they balk at going to their other parent’s home, you can say something like “Even though mom and dad aren’t married anymore we both still love you and are good parents.”
- Remind kids a few days ahead when they will be spending time with their other parent. This helps them anticipate the change and gives them an opportunity to adapt. Planning ahead and helping them pack important possessions can benefit them. However, keep items to a bare minimum. Most parents prefer to have duplicate items for their kids on hand.
- Do your best to encourage your younger child to adhere to their parenting time schedule – being consistent with their schedule will help your kids feel secure.
- Attempt to show enthusiasm about their visit with their other parent. It’s important to put your differences with your ex aside and to promote your children’s positive bond with them.
For children over age 10:
- Allow for flexibility in their schedule. At times, teens may have difficulty juggling their busy life with school, extracurricular activities, friends, and jobs if they start working.
- Avoid giving them the impression that being with their friends is not as important as spending time with you.
- Plan activities with them that might include their friends at times – such as sporting events or movies.
- Respect your teens need for autonomy and relatedness. Emery writes, “Teenagers naturally want more freedom, but they also want and need relationships with their parents, through your adolescent may be unwilling to admit this.
Most of all, modeling cooperation and polite behavior sets a positive tone for co-parenting. When children are confident of the love of both of their parents, they will adjust more easily to divorce. Keeping your differences with your ex away from your children will open up opportunities to move beyond divorce in the years to come.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s forthcoming book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.