It’s easy to forget that a lot of our decisions that we make in divorce need to be viewed through a long-term lens. Tensions are high–you just want to Get. It. Done. It FEELS like it is all about the here-and-now, ending the pain you are experiencing and finally having some control over your own new, fabulous life. But wait. Do your co-parenting plans consider what the kids will be like, be doing, want to do, 5 or 10 years down the road? Let’s face it, the kids grow up, and the parenting plan and how you work [or don’t work] with your co-parent will absolutely affect your kids and will change [and should!] as they get older. Remaining flexible, and having open communication with your co-parent are key factors in the success of any long-term parenting plan.
Here are some things to think about when you are co-parenting growing children.
>Keep Kids’ Lifestyle in Mind
Older kids might not need both of you around as much when they reach thirteen or so. They are gaining independence, and a weekly check-in with your co-parent might suffice. Keep the topics to school, sports, schedules, and any health issues or injuries that need monitoring. That way, when your child is with their other parent, that parent will be informed of all the possible issues and events in their child’s life, just like you are, and won’t have to play catch-up with a not-so-talkative teenager.
If you have a schedule that includes a mid-week switch, perhaps consider more of a ‘week-on-week-off’ schedule, so that an already disorganized teen doesn’t have to worry about forgetting important school assignments and belongings between homes. This type of switch could alleviate some of the stress your child is feeling. Talk to your teen. Ask them their preferences and communicate with them. Try to understand the world of divorced parents from their point of view. You might learn something that you never would have guessed about your child’s desire for having the schedule a certain way. Keeping lines of communication open is critical to your understanding and ability to make changes.
Remember, too, that although this schedule might have worked for years in the past, when your kids were 3 and 5, it might not work now when they are 13 and 15. Having the ability to communicate both with your child and your co-parent in a healthy way and being truly child-centered is super important and will make a huge difference in your child’s life.
>Keep Kids’ Ages in Mind
Young kids might not thrive with a schedule where they don’t see each parent frequently. They need to touch base with both of you more often. For example, schedules with big stretches of time with each parent generally won’t work for younger kids. Seeing each of you for a couple days, every couple of days, is generally best for young kids. Obviously, if geography or other circumstances make this impossible, shoot for the next best thing that you are able to do.
Younger kids have more things going on, developmentally, with their health, with their schools. This is the stage where you, as parents, need to be attending teacher conferences, soccer games or Scout nights, or doctor appointments together. Does this require work? You bet. You can’t make this happen if you both don’t have a working relationship with each other that includes great communication and cooperation. Again, it’s for your kids. You can do it.
>Consider the Child’s ‘Home Base’
This is more about the feeling of the kid than about the actual location being one they are at more often. This could be the marital home where they have lived all their lives. They might have neighborhood friends that they miss walking to school with, or they may want to stick with their normal bus route home, rather than a new one. Perhaps their pet is at this home, and they miss the animal when they are away.
Conversely, they might feel more at home at their other parent’s house: they may prefer their new bed, or the color of their room, or that they get picked up from school rather than taking the bus. Maybe all their favorite video games are there, or a favorite pillow.
Resolving your kids’ discontent with their schedules as they grow and change is the job of their parents. You both need to work together to come up with a plan that will work for your family. The need, and the goal, is to remain flexible in the face of changing circumstances so that your kids feel supported and heard. You are already their favorite people. Show them that they are yours.
Need help negotiating a co-parenting relationship with your ex, or navigating something else in the divorce process? I’d love to help you. Feel free to reach out to me or follow me on Instagram for practical tips and advice.