Anyone who’s been required to have a written parenting plan as part of their divorce knows that creating a parenting plan that works is difficult.
My current guest David, has been divorced for over seven years now. He has three children. The parenting schedule he has now is not the schedule he had when he was first separated and it continues to change in response to the changing needs of his children, his ex and his own needs. Here’s David:
One of the things I think my ex and I did really, really well, and this is something that I just sort of came up with, was to make sure the schedule included solo time.
But at the very beginning, the kids had a really hard time with it and frankly, I had a hard time transitioning to being a single parent. The first year was pretty rocky and it was really hard on all of us. There was one Thanksgiving that just ended very badly. Enough said on that!
When we first started being in separate places, the kids were with her most of the time. I think they were with her every school night, so that would be Sunday through Thursday night. I had Thursday afternoons and Fri morning through Sunday evening. That ended up being something that helped stabilize some of the chaos, because the kids would be doing things like, “Oh, I need to go to mommy’s to get my textbook,” or “I need to go to daddy’s to get my notes for my class.” They just couldn’t quite wrap their heads around having one school night would be at mom’s and one school night would be at dad’s. That lasted about a year, a year and a half and then they started to complain that they didn’t have enough time with me.
So we tried a variety of things and the schedule that I really liked was that we had it where I would have all three kids on Thursday afternoon and I would drop the girls off with their mom and my son and I would have Thursday evenings to ourselves. Typically we’d go to a sports bar like Buffalo Wild Wings and we’d watch a football game and eat dinner together and it was really great. I think it really was an important step to building a strong relationship with him. Then, Friday and Saturday nights would be all three kids and then Sunday they’d go back to mom.
Unfortunately, the solo time thing has fallen by the wayside, mostly because my ex just didn’t want to deal with it anymore. It’s something my kids still complain about and ask whether we can reinstate it because before it stopped they were taking turns with their solo nights with me, which we all looked forward to.
It got to be a bit tricky and because she’s remarried, I think that she’s (quite reasonably) protective of her non-parenting time, so that the two of them can build their relationship. I have my kids Wednesday through Sunday basically every week and with different aged kids, they’re doing different things. My 17-year-old is often sleeping over at a girlfriends and my son is huge into sleepovers with his buddies. He and his little posse, they’re always at one person’s house or another’s. That works out pretty well. Now that my oldest is driving and can drive her siblings around, that picture is also going to be very different this coming school year in terms of how that all looks. I tend to compress my work into my Sunday through Wednesdays. Then, Thursday and Friday I work while they’re at school and then I’m done for the day.
We sometimes try to have an alternating Saturday, but my ex travels a lot. Literally, they’re out of town right now and then they get back just a couple of days before school starts and then as soon as school starts up, she’s out of town again. I think if you looked on the calendar across the sweep of 12 months, I have my kids 60-70 percent of the time just to support her, which is fine with me. I love having my kids around and I love the days when I don’t have them around, because it’s so much more peace and quiet.
I do think that in some ways being a single parent is better than being married, because I actually get days off. I get days where I can stay out until 2:00 a.m. at a friend’s house and there’s no hassle. There’s no coming home and saying, “Oh my God, look what you did to the kitchen,” or “How on earth are you guys not asleep yet?” So there are days for me to just focus on me and then there are other days when it’s all about the family and the kids and what are their needs and what’s going on at school and sports and so on.
The Divorce Coach Says:
Depending on where you live, you may be required to create a written parenting plan as part of the legal divorce process. Even if it’s not required having a written plan can be really helpful for parents and children alike. Having all the decision-making and shared parenting time spelled out can avoid disagreements especially during the early days following divorce when communications may be strained.
However, getting a good parenting plan is challenging. For starters, you are expected to create this fairly complex document with little idea of the practical consequences. It’s a lot easier to document something if you’ve experienced it. If you’re still living together under the same roof, it’s very difficult to visualize sharing next Christmas with your ex, with your children moving between two homes and to anticipate the emotional toll the proposed schedule may have.
Capturing the intricacies of your child’s life is hard enough when there’s just one household. Two households adds another layer to documenting the who, what, where, when of your child’s life. Now add more children into the picture who have different needs and different schedules and the task of creating a meaningful plan becomes exponentially more difficult.
At the same time you’re being expected to do this, you are also adapting to living singly and your own parenting style will inevitably evolve. Your parenting philosophy up to now has probably been a blend of your own ideas and your STBX’s with some compromises. Becoming a single parent gives you the opportunity to evaluate that and while co-parenting does still mean comprising, you can reasonably set your own rules in your own home. The same is true for your STBX. Consequently, there is the very real possibility that what you both think will work at the time of writing, won’t work in reality.
Complicated, isn’t it? But wait, there’s more. There are your children—the people at the center of this agreement. Not only will they react differently to having two homes but their interests, activities and needs are in a constant state of flux.
The good news is that there are resources available for creating parenting plan. I would start with finding out if you are required by law to have a written plan and if so, if there’s a template available. Then take the time to customize any template to your own situation. If you’re living separately it helps because you can start documenting the schedule you’re currently following. This has the added benefit of testing out the schedule and it may be easy to make adjustments for things not working well. Once you have a draft, then consider having a professional such as a parenting or divorce coach review it. It could save you a lot of future headaches and that makes it a good investment of both your time and your money. Please do contact me if you’d like to find out more about this service.
P.S. I really like the idea of building in solo time. With two kids I think that can happen organically but with more than two, it probably needs to be a conscious decision.
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