Advice for successful shared parenting after divorceThere is no way of telling when any particular subject will come up or what type of parenting problems will surface to disrupt the process. However, it is generally best to address the problem immediately. The following are some common themes in parenting. How they are presented ranges everywhere from gentle reminders and conversations to blunt statements and directives. Behavior that runs contrary to sound parenting damages children and fouls up the divorce process.
Structure.Seeing the kids whenever you feel like it or whenever you have the time is not going to work. Unlike you, children must have structure in order to feel secure and develop normally. Simply showing up at odd times causes stress on the children and their other parent. You must make time for your children based upon what they need, not what you need.
Calendars.Create a set of calendars. Highlight dad’s days of parenting in blue and mom’s in pink. Make duplicates for each parent and tack it up in the kitchen of each house. This is more for the kid’s benefit than yours. It is a type of structure similar to regular meals and regular bedtimes, and kids must have structure in order to feel secure.
Emergencies.Decide now who is going to be called when your child is sick at school or there is an emergency. The job is not necessarily mom’s. The job belongs to whomever can best minimize the economic impact on their finances. If mom is salaried and can make up the time whenever, and dad works on an hourly basis and can’t get away without getting in trouble, then it’s mom’s job. If dad is laid off due to winter weather, then it’s his job. Make sure the school has contact information for both of you.
Logs.It’s called a kid’s log. It goes back and forth between you and your ex-spouse. It contains information about the children, their activities, and any problems. The log goes in the kid’s backpack. It’s everybody’s responsibility, including the kid’s, to make sure the child has it when he or she leaves either residence. Read it every time and write something in it every time so that your parenting partner knows you are getting the messages.
Kid information.The contents of the weekly envelope that the kid gets from school should be provided to the other parent every week. If the envelope contains schedules or other important information, it should be copied so both parents are informed. If you can’t talk to your ex-spouse, have your new spouse do it. If that person can’t do it, send a note, put it in the kid’s log or send an e-mail. Don’t use your kids to take information to your ex-spouse. You can make the kids postmen, but don’t make them messengers. Correspondence with your ex-spouse may not be easy, but it’s absolutely necessary for your kids.
Child support.You are going to pay your child support. You are no different than any other single dad in the whole world. If you have the idea that it’s a payment for your wife, change that idea. It’s for your kids. Every time you think it’s for your wife, remember it’s for your kids. Yes, paying child support is painful. Try having the amount withheld from your pay and transferred to wherever your ex (or the court) wants it sent. That way you won’t be ticked off every month when you write the check.
Control.You can’t control what your ex-spouse feeds or doesn’t feed your kids. If your ex believes that macaroni and cheese is the staff of life, you can’t change that. What you can do is make sure that they are fed properly when you are parenting. You can go the extra step and directly pay for their lunches at school to make sure that they get them. You can buy them into the breakfast program. You can send kids’ vitamins home with them and follow up to make sure they are taking them. You can make sure that annual checkups are performed, and if you really think there is an issue, pay for more regular exams. Log everything. If there is an issue and the kid’s welfare is being threatened, a court may be able to intervene. Otherwise, let it go and do the best you can while they are with you. Parents differ in the way they think children should be raised. And, admittedly, some tactics seem to work better than others. However, unless your ex is an ax murderer, no court is going to interfere in the parenting of the children while they are in his or her care. If your ex isn’t providing what you think the children need, then it is your job to see that they get it while they are with you. Other than that, you do not have control of the situation.
Sticking with the schedule.Imagine your son with his backpack standing by the door waiting for you. You make him wait for two hours to prove to your ex that you’re still in control. Who does that hurt? What does that tell your son about how you feel about him? Why do you think your ex is upset with you? Consider that your ex might be angry not because you hurt him or her but because you hurt your son. Stick with the parenting schedule as if it is the most important thing in your life. You are incredibly important to your son. If you can’t pick him up on time, or if the schedule changes, call your ex or call your son immediately.
Good time Charlie.When you get the kids, you want to show them a good time. However, if you can afford it, don’t be afraid to buy the kids necessities. Buying things like shoes and school supplies shows that you understand that kids need more than just fast food. It also puts you on your ex’s good side, and maybe he or she will cut you some slack on other issues.
Transfer wars.In some situations it seems that every time the kids change parenting there is a battle. If you blister your ex every time he or she picks up the kids, your ex might decide it isn’t worth the trip. If that happens, who does that hurt, your kids or your ex? This means that you have to decide whether you are mad at your kids or at your ex. If it isn’t about the kids, don’t bring it up. If it’s about the kids and you can’t be civil, put it in a note or in the kid’s log.
Do kids have a choice?Sometimes courts will hear what children have to say as to which parent they want to live with and why, but children never make the decision on where they will live. Parents make that decision based on what’s best for the child. Until the child reaches the age of majority, you and your ex are in charge.
Kids as spies.Your kids aren’t spies. Don’t pump them for information. You can listen to what they have to say, and hazards to their health should be followed up on. However the real danger here is that you may make the children feel like they have betrayed their mother or father. You hurt the relationship between your children and their other parent, and it will hurt your children.
Decompression.Decompression is the process when children change households and go from one parenting style to another. It occurs very commonly when children go from a household with little or no structure to one with that is highly structured. For example, there may be very little structure in the mother's home. Consequently, your daughter may feel insecure while she is there. To compensate, she may try to create structure and actually assume control of when and how things are done. When she comes back to your house, it is no longer necessary for her to be in control, so she is momentarily disoriented by her change in roles. This causes her to act out, defying your structure when she is accustomed to creating her own. The best way to handle decompression appears to be to avoid overreacting to it. Send the kid to a secure, familiar place such as her bedroom to engage in a quiet activity like reading. Not a punishment, just some down time. A couple of hours in her own space will usually allow enough time for her to adjust.
Parent’s logs.A parental log is a record of the interaction between parents. It can be used to record when things work, when they don’t or even areas where improvement could be sought. There is a line between bad parenting and criminal activity. Appropriately, courts rarely get involved in situations in which they are required to assess the difference between what is good parenting and what is bad. Courts only get involved when the actual, physical, welfare of your children is an issue. Those situations must have evidence in order for them to take action. One of the forms that evidence can take is a log. You create the log. Here are some examples of what goes in the log and what doesn’t:
- Your husband’s feeding the kids ice cream cones for breakfast probably doesn’t count.
- Tarra isn’t in her car seat and Brett doesn’t have his seat belt on when they are dropped off. Log it; failure to restrain children endangers them and is a violation of the law.
- Your mother tells you that your ex has been drinking when he drops off the kids. Ask her why she thinks so, and tell her that she may end up testifying to the fact. If she sticks by her accusation, log it. Drinking and driving endangers the children.
- Your ex only buys the kids fast food when they are with him. The court doesn’t care.
- Your husband buys Brett a dirt bike but no safety equipment. Log it, and ask your ex to buy the equipment. If he refuses and if you are able, buy Brett the equipment.
- Every time your ex picks up the kids, he takes them over to his mother’s and leaves. Log it, the action speaks to the parenting of your ex. If he isn’t engaged in the lives of your children, the court may find any demands related to parenting without basis.