When parents decide to separate, one of the biggest decisions that they must make is how to arrange the schedule for their children. Who will be the main carer? How often will the other parent see the children? In theory, there are many options open to explore and discuss, but often emotions are running high during these initial discussions and it is easy for both parents to lose sight of what is the most important – the children’s best interests.
Your Child’s Best Interests
Your own ideas of what is best for your child may well be influenced by your own emotions, particularly if the separation has been traumatic and you have a high conflict relationship with your ex. Remember that consulting your children on their arrangements is important but can only be done if they are old enough to understand. Asking a toddler how often they would like to see Daddy is too big a question and will only cause upset. Here are some pointers to consider:
Adjustment to the separation – to make this as smooth as possible the child needs ‘order’ in the upheaval, a predictable routine that they can rely on and get used to.
Avoid conflict – openly arguing with your ex in front of the children will cause distress. Also, bad mouthing your ex to your children will force an unhappy loyalty conflict by making them choose a parent to side with.
How to Work Out the Arrangements
It is important to remember that most children will benefit from being in regular contact with both their parents and receive input, love and care from both. This is where the difficulties of making arrangements can start. For example, if one parent feels they want to punish the other parent by refusing access to the children or making contact difficult, it is the children that will suffer the most. Your own feelings for your ex-partner must be set aside for the sake of your kids. In their eyes they love both their parents and will be traumatised enough by the split, without the extra stress of dealing with parental conflict too.
The pattern that you choose for your own situation must be a decision that is agreed by both parents, often meaning a compromise must be reached. These decisions can only be reached if both parents are willing to listen to the other point of view and discuss the situation fully and fairly with empathy.
For example, a common occurrence can be that the Dad will say he wants 50/50 shared responsibility for the children and have them stay with him for 50% of the time. This sounds fair in theory, but it may be far from practical to arrange around his work. Also, from the mother’s point of view, she may have been the main carer to the children since they were born, why should she suddenly relinquish this now and only see her children half the time? So, you can see how both parents in this situation will not agree and will also feel the other is being completely unreasonable.
Shared Care or Shared Parenting
Shared care of the children can work for some families if work commitments allow and both parents are committed to the arrangement. It can mean less complications in terms of finances too, as technically no maintenance need change hands if both parents hold equal responsibility for home, food and utilities.
However, the best interests of the children must also be considered, changing between homes a few times a week can be very disruptive for them emotionally particularly if they are young. Alternatively, it could be too long between seeing either parent if an alternative week schedule was decided upon.
There is also the practical side of things where they may need to transport personal belongings between the houses. Imagine the distress if the favourite teddy got left at Dad’s one day and the toddler can’t sleep without it. This is not to say that it can’t work, in fact, we have seen many couples who have made it work very successfully and their children are balanced, happy and enjoy time with both parents. It is just important to consider the aspects of 50/50 shared care that can make it more challenging.
We have written a very comprehensive blog which gives many examples of shared parenting schedules and how to make the arrangements that will make shared parenting work in different situations. You may also find it useful to read the highs and lows or shared parenting.
Other Parenting Schedules
A very common pattern that is set up between separated parents is where the mother will remain the main carer, but the children will have regular visits to their Dad. This is often worked out that the father has the children every other weekend for a long two day/two-night visit. Sometimes an issue with this arrangement is that the father wouldn’t see the children very often, so you can add a mid-week overnight stay every week on a Wednesday to increase the time.
Another example of how it can be worked out is the 60/40 schedule. This works well if both parents want plenty of time with the kids, but the 50/50 schedule has too many change over times. The parents will need to live close to each other for it to work and the children will need to be comfortable and happy living in two houses for nearly equal amounts of time.
Again, this is another option that can work very well, as with any other schedule it needs to be organised, so the children know the pattern and get used to it. You can work this out so that every week one parent does 5 days and the other does 2 days. Or you can schedule every third week, the children go to their Dad. This can work well for older children or teens as they will be happier to spend a week away from a parent, than a toddler.
The Importance of Compromise
Whatever your individual situation, reasons for your separation, age of your children or your location you can see that there are many ways in which you can arrange to split the time with your children. However, these schedules only work if both parents agree on and stick to the plan. If one parent keeps letting the children down on the weekend that is his or her responsibility, the arrangements won’t work. This also leaves the children in a state of confusion, feeling very insecure and unloved.
The magic of compromise is that it creates a good place to move forward with how the relationship between you and your ex will work. At the end of the day you share the responsibility for your children and if you can manage that from a place of empathy and compromise you will manage the relationship in a much better and more healthy way. This is in the best interests of your children. If they see you both being respectful and flexible with each other it not only sets a good example to them of how adults should manage difficulties, but they will feel loved by both parents.
Can Mediation Help?
Are you trying to work out a parenting schedule with your ex-partner? Are you finding it difficult to reach agreement on this aspect of your separation? Here at Progressive Mediation, in Totnes, we are experienced with family separation situations and the conflict that can occur as parents try to work out finances and children’s’ arrangements. If you would like advice, please call Frances on 0788 903 9393.