Custody & Parenting Time:
Supporting Your Child’s Adjustment to Co-Parenting
“Co-parenting” refers to a situation where a child’s parents are not in a marriage, or cohabiting, or in a romantic relationship with one another. Typically co-parenting occurs when two partners break up, separate or divorce – but both parents remain involved to some degree in taking care of their children.
As an experienced family law attorney, I have seen hundreds of co-parenting situations – some very positive and some that were stressful for the parents and the children. In this article I would like to offer some insights that I have gained through years of helping families successfully negotiate the challenges of divorce, custody and parenting time.
It should be obvious that becoming a competent co-parent requires putting a child’s needs ahead of your own. But for many parents it is easy to lose sight of this, in the heat and hurt of an emotional break-up, or when dealing with an insolent “ex.” Understanding the following factors affecting “good parenting time” can help you create a loving and secure environment for your child.
Fair and Equal Parenting Time
Research shows that children who maintain nearly equal time with both parents grow up to have higher self-esteem, as well as fewer trust issues. So it is in a child’s best interest to encourage them to spend time with their other parent. This includes maintaining a positive tone when discussing your ex-spouse in front of your child, so that they never feel guilty, afraid or conflicted about going to see the other parent.
Even if your parenting time agreement only specifies “every other” weekend, or perhaps a 70/30 split, you may want to consider balancing it out with more flexible and frequent visits – for the long-term psychological health and happiness of your children.
Parenting Time and Transitioning Between Households
Moving from one parent’s home to the other parents home can be stressful for a child – especially younger children. It is common for a child to resist leaving one home – even crying or getting upset – when it is time to go to another home. This does not mean that the child loves the other parent any less! Instead it should be understood as the natural response of a child who is facing “change” and is craving security.
It is important that co-parents create a schedule that doesn’t make the child feel like they have to “choose sides”. A child simply doesn’t have the wisdom, insight, and clarity to make decisions about spending time with both parents. This is a decision that needs to be made for them. And if both parents provide a “united front” the child will never feel guilty or disloyal
As much as possible, parents should work together to determine schools, extra-curricular activities, and all the other aspects of the child’s life, to foster a cohesive daily experience for the child.
Helping a child anticipate the transitions between their two homes will help your child feel secure. You can do this by reminding them ahead of time that they will be spending time at their other home. Giving them something to look forward to can help even further. For example: “Daddy is planning on taking you to the park on Saturday” helps your child anticipate the change, and even be excited about going to their other home.
Parenting Time for Children’s Emotional Health
Children often feel responsible for their parents’ happiness. In some cases, they might feel the need to side with one parent against the other parent. This can cause alienation. And feelings of estrangement from a parent is unhealthy psychologically for your child. Try not to express negative opinions about the other parent’s lifestyle, values or identity. If your child hears you criticizing the other parent, it can have a detrimental impact on them emotionally because they will feel that they are in the middle.
Finally, modeling cooperation and polite behavior sets a positive tone for co-parenting and teaches your child important values. Recognize that your ex is, in spite of your differences, your child’s parent – and deserves respect for that reason alone.