Divorce is difficult. Not only for couples going through the process, but for their children. Splitting up a home, finances and lives is a minefield of decision making. Even the best parents struggle with emotions as they try to do what is right for their family.
Part of this challenge is coming up with a post-divorce parenting plan. As part of that plan, parents must determine a time schedule for their children that not only suits their own busy lives, but, more importantly, is beneficial for each child. It’s not simply a matter of deciding who wants who when and dividing up the calendar year. It is imperative that parents consider what is appropriate based on the age of each child and what developmental stage they are in.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all world when it comes to time spent with children in post-divorce parenting. The needs of children change over the years. To ignore these important facts may cause children stress, and even harm their development psychologically, leaving adverse affects that reach into their adulthood and impact their own relationship building.
For babies, the first month’s activities — holding, feeding and changing — create a secure foundation to build relationships between them and their parents. It is also important to maintain consistency and routine with infants. Short, frequent visits with each parent are best for bonding and forming relationships.
From one to three months of age, infants begin to differentiate between their mothers and fathers, and even understand to expect different things from them. Long separations from the primary caretaker can cause infant depression, but insufficient contact with the non-custodial parent may cause that parent to disengage from their child’s life. It’s a delicate balancing act.
Toddlers develop a sense of independence as they begin to walk, talk and express emotions. But toddlers do not understand the concept of time very well, so a week with their non-custodial parent and no contact with their primary caregiver may seem like forever and leave them feeling rejected, even abandoned.
Once children are old enough that they can understand the situation and talk about their feelings, it becomes an easier task to balance time spent with each parent. Pay attention to what is important to each child and incorporate their needs into the schedule if possible. But, as a parent, you should also recognize what is best for your children may not be based purely upon their feelings and wishes. You must learn to judge and balance situations so your children can maintain a healthy and sustainable relationship with both you and the ex.
Juggling schedules isn’t an easy task. Divorced couples are expected to work together, to understand all the factors and responsibilities involved so they can determine a time schedule that works for everyone concerned. It is best to approach the difficulties of post-divorce parenting with an open mind, always taking into consideration your children’s needs first, putting your own discomfort aside to establish healthy and loving relationships in your family.
As your children grow, you will need to revisit and revise your schedule, to keep it relevant to their ages and needs. A strong parenting plan allows future modification with a schedule that is age-specific. If all this proves too difficult, mediation is an option worth considering. Seek professional input and guidance if needed. Counselors or mediators can help you navigate the complexities of parenting plans, and help determine what is in the best interests of your children. They can also act as neutral negotiators to tackle conflict resolution.