When eight-year-old Michael learned his parents were splitting, his first question was, "Where will I live and does that mean I won't get to see Daddy?"
Michael knew a number of kids whose parents were divorced and, already at his tender age, he was aware of the difficulties. One classmate coincidentally named Cloud floated nebulously between the residences of each parent on alternate weeks, often forgetting which school bus to take or where he'd left his homework.
Like most divorcing couples, Michael's had worked out a "reasonable visitation" schedule with their lawyers. Reasonable visitation was considered twice-a-month weekend overnight stays and one mid-week visit with dad. The exact times were specified for the beginning and end of each contact.
This arrangement seemed to satisfy the parents when they sat down and carved out the settlement; and, initially, Michael eagerly looked forward to seeing his father. In between visits, he fantasized how they would spend their time together. However, the closer it came to finalizing the divorce, the stress around visitation was making Michael anxious as both parents became locked in combat and visits with Dad became less predictable.
Looking back as an adult, Michael would remember with sadness, anger and resentment being a pawn in his parents' divorce. "I dreaded each visitation because I felt like a traitor if I had a good time with my dad. If he canceled a visit, I thought it was my fault. I remember having stomachaches the day before I was scheduled to see him."
Divorce can be a minefield for kids and it's up to parents to make visitation as smooth as possible. Here are some tips to smooth the way:
• Make it clear that you value your child's time with you and with the other parent.
• Work out a fair and practical time-sharing schedule as soon as possible.
• Arrive and deliver the child on time. Call if you are going to be late on either end.
• Do not discuss custody, visitation, or legal issues with your ex when you meet to transfer your child.
• Listen to your child concerning problems with the other parent, but encourage your child to work out the problems with the other parent if possible.
• Do not make your child a spy, messenger or bill collector.
• If you have special requests - don't feed Tommy hot dogs - do it directly and explain the reasons without attacking
• Try to be flexible in "trading off" to accommodate each other's needs such as vacations or family get-togethers.
• Refrain from sharing your visits with dates or other persons until these relationships are stable. Children typically resent competing for their parent's attention. They need preparation and time to digest changes. Remember than children often harbor the secret hope parents will get back together.
• If your spouse is overly generous and spoiling your child, discuss your concerns directly rather than make your child feel guilty for accepting the gifts.
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