Sharing the Kids
It’s done. You and your spouse are no longer living under the same roof and while it might please you to never see your spouse again, that’s not going to happen if you have kids.
Dealing with visitation is difficult, even with an amicable divorce. Besides the logistical issues of when, how and where, there’s an emotional side that can be devastating for everyone involved. Remember, no matter how you feel about your spouse, it has to be about what’s best for the children.
Psychologist James Franz says there are three important tenets that should be followed in regard to children and your divorce:
– Children Should Have Access to Both Parents
Don’t make your children choose between the two of you because, regardless of which parent wins, your children will lose. This also means you need to allow your children to have a good time when they’re with the other parent, even if you believe the other parent doesn’t deserve the children’s love and affection.
– Stop Arguing in Front of Your Kids
Although you may think this shows children how to stick up for themselves or how you’re not a pushover, there are other opportunities to teach those lessons. Thus, make sure you choose times to argue when the children won’t be able to see or overhear you.
– Don’t Put Your Kids in the Middle
Keep children out of conflicts between you and your spouse. A common method of drawing children into conflict is using them as messengers, especially when the message is something the other parent won’t like. If you remain married, this could be asking your children to remind their father that he still hasn’t fixed something that he said he would. If you’re divorced, an example might be asking the children to tell their mother that a child support payment will be late. This type of message not only makes your children witness a fight, it turns them into a participant.
Visitation: Making a Plan
When it comes to working out a visitation plan, it’s best to get it in writing. (Get a neutral party to help you if necessary.) Sit down with your spouse and a calendar and block out visitation days for both parents. Take a long hard look at school holidays and special occasions such as birthdays or regular family outings. When it comes to major holidays, such as Christmas or Chanukah, someone is going to have to give. Trading off holidays (you get Christmas, I get birthday) is one way to handle it. If both spouses live within driving distance, sharing the day itself might be a good solution.
When planning visitation days, try to remember that there are other family members who want to see the children, too. If grandma on dad’s side is flying in from Sweden on Thanksgiving, that’s a good reason for him to have the kids.
Flexible is good for special occasions, but on a weekly basis, it’s regularity that counts. Your children will feel better if they know where they’re going to be and when. Resist the urge to switch dates for anything but the most dire of circumstances. It might make it easier for you to finish that report for work if the kids come this Saturday instead of next, but it’s tougher on them.
But for all your efforts and planning, issues will arise. A hometown soccer game will fall on an out-of-town parent’s visitation day. A party with friends will take precedent over the usual Friday night dinner with mom. An unexpected business trip will send you 3,000 miles away when all you really want is your one weekend a month with your kids. No one said this was going to be easy, but communication is the key. Talk to your spouse as soon as issues come up. Stick to the facts and remember that your kids still love you even if they’d rather go bowling with friends on “your night.”