Sharing parental duties after divorce or separation often proves more difficult than expected. In an ideal world, parents would always work as a team to tend to the needs of their kids, without dispute.
Of course, the real world doesn’t always unfold as neatly and each parents’ actions can be scrutinized by the other, creating a tremendous amount of friction. When sensitive subjects such as your child become compounded and complicated by emotion towards your ex, it often ends up being the child or children in the middle who ultimately suffer. What tends to be forgotten during such testing times is that you are still the parents of your child and must therefore be willing to work together for their sake.
A Common Goal
The thought of sharing parental roles equally with somebody to whom you are no longer emotionally attached isn’t an easy one to grasp.
In some instances, one parent may feel that since they’ve always done the majority of the parenting, things shouldn’t change too much going forward. Sadly, this generally tends to result in one exhausted/overworked parent and one bitter/disgruntled parent – neither of whom is able to give the best of themselves.
The transition to co-parenting can be far from smooth, but what must be remembered throughout the process is that both parents share a common goal. If you both want what’s best for your child, it may be necessary to set aside your emotions and, as difficult as it may be, instead of focusing on each other’s deficits, try concentrating on each parents’ strengths.
The Parenting Plan
A Parenting Plan is a voluntary agreement which details the specifics regarding how parents will collaboratively raise their child after separation and divorce. It can either be included as part of any separation agreement, or created as a standalone document.
A Parenting Plan will usually spell out issues such as:
♦ How important decisions involving the child will be made
♦ How information regarding the child will be shared
♦ The amount of time each parent will spend with the child
♦ Living arrangements
Distribution of Duties
Realistically speaking, one cannot expect to sit down with their ex-spouse and write down every single thing each of you will do for your child every day. Though the plan is relatively detailed, the document must still be variable in order to accommodate changes in schedule, emergencies and, of course, the age of the children.
A few helpful tips on facilitating smooth transitions:
♦ Give it Time – Parenting plans rarely unfold perfectly from the start. Chances are there will be plenty of disagreements to come. Remember, it takes time and patience to make it work. Stick with it.
♦ Evolve – When you were a couple you likely relied on each other’s strengths and skills to raise your child together. Now that you are on your own, and in order to be the best parent you can be, it is important that over time you develop new skills and evolve.
♦ Allow for Change(s) – Even the most detailed and seemingly workable parenting plans may not reflect the realities of life several months down the line. Both the needs of children and parental priorities often change and so too must the terms of the agreement.
Follow the Rules
On paper, it all sounds simple enough. Nevertheless, putting it all into practice isn’t quite so easy. However, if both parents are willing to follow a few key rules, the plan has a better chance of success.
- The Kids Come First – Never forget who it is that matters most. The plan must reflect what is best for the child.
- Put it in Writing – Remember, a Parenting Plan can be its’ own document or part of a legally binding separation agreement.
- The Past is Past…Look to the Future – Try to remember that whatever issues you may have had with your ex in the past is not as important as focusing on the future of your child.
- The Walls Have Ears – Kids pick up more than you think. Watch what you say about your ex and never put your kids in the middle of an argument or encourage them to take sides.
Separation and divorce is never easy. It quite literally changes your life. Be patient with yourself as you try to navigate this new reality, focus your attention on bonding closely with your child. These relationships are the most important and should benefit everyone down the line.