The new school year! Time to get supplies, go to bed earlier, and begin a whole new routine. Time to put away our flip-flops and squeeze into socks and new shoes.
If you are divorced and co-parenting, the beginning of the school year can turn up the stress as you try to synch up the schedules of two hectic households. If you need to make a change to your parenting plan, now may be the natural time to do it.
At Peace Talks, we find that shared parenting works best when there is some sort of written agreement. “The agreements are as varied as our clients, but what is important is that the family have a written agreement,” says child custody mediator, Tara Fass.
For examples of how parenting can be shared, see these sample schedules.
It is important to be open to compromises. Above everything else, keep your kids out of the middle of your arguments!
Here are some guidelines:
• Support each other’s privacy — what goes on in the other house is none of your business unless it endangers your child.
• Respect the other parent — talk civilly, use common courtesies, help your children appreciate and recognize the other parent’s efforts to be close to them.
• Communicate regularly with the other parent — use notes, e-mail and phone calls.
• Do your share of parenting and be clear about what you need and expect from the other parent in order to co-parent smoothly.
Problems or no problems, it is always a good idea to keep the other parent updated as to what is happening when the children are with you. You can send a weekly, biweekly, or monthly letter, along with school papers, sports schedules, report cards, drawings, and any and all other materials that may come your way.
A side benefit of sending written materials is that you can photocopy or scan them and keep them in a journal so that you have them as indications of your attempts to keep the other parent informed. That’s important if the co-parent co-cooperativeness breaks down, and there are subsequent allegations that you were not cooperative.
When creating a co-parenting plan, it is critical to understand how dangerous it is to expose your children to high conflict between you and your ex.
There is no ambiguity about this!
Children surrounded by continuous conflict demonstrate higher levels of aggression and regression. Alternatively, parents in frequent contact who are supportive of each other have well-adjusted children, whether or not they spend overnights.
It is not the overnights or the schedule in itself that is the critical link; rather, parents who work cooperatively and protect their children from negative involvements in the parental relationship can each spend more time with their children without harming them.
In my 20 years as a divorce litigator turned mediator, I have seen everything when in comes to legal and residential arrangements. Constance Ahrons identified typical co-parents as Perfect Pals, Cooperative Colleagues, Angry Associates or Fiery Foes.
Where do you fit in?
After 40 years of no-fault divorce, we are finding that it is not divorce itself that hurts kids. It is the way the divorce is handled that hurts kids. Parents who are able to demonstrate that they can get along and problem-solve, even though they are no longer in love, set a good example for their children.
For a complete explanation of the typical legal and residential arrangements that will comprise the language in your divorce settlement, see chapter eight of my first book, Your Divorce Advisor.
For fabulous stepfamily resources from co-parents and authors Jann Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe, see Bonus Families.
The particulars aren’t as important as your strategy to communicate as a healthy bi-nuclear family, taking everyone’s needs into consideration.
The academic year is a time for fresh starts. Perhaps you can wipe the slate clean, and up your parenting grade point average.
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