Child custody and visitation routines are of course established in the divorce settlement. But rigid, court-ordered mandatory visitation schedules are the worst setup for kids, because they essentially enslave a child’s life to the parents’ schedules. They are designed to be legal stop-gaps that outline the custody rights of each parent, but they are not the most practical instrument for the real-world. Therefore we propose that parents adopt the following visitation rules and guidelines for contact that go beyond what is outlined in court papers.
Keeping child visitations & exchanges running smoothly
- Acknowledge and accept that your children have two homes, and that your job as a loving parent is to help them feel safe and comfortable at both of them. Doing things that could sabotage their time or interaction with the other parent is as bad as creating an unhappy environment for them in your own home. Remind yourself that studies repeatedly show that having a healthy relationship with both parents is important to a child’s welfare.
- Support the child’s need to visit and interact with the other parent, not just through visitation schedules, but in phone calls, mother or father’s day gifts, or other things that support their relationship with the other parent. Make a commitment to be fair in sharing your children’s time with the other parent.
- Both parents need to encourage and be supportive of visitation. When problems arise, both parents need to help find solutions to the child’s struggles in ways that build their relationship to the other parent. DO NOT use these problems as evidence that visitation won’t work or is unhealthy for the kids.
Some guidelines that will make visitation work better
- Agree to be flexible about visitation schedules
If you and your ex can be grown-ups about the situation, try to work some flexibility into the arrangement. If visitation falls on a day when a child had something planned, see if you can work to trade that day at one parent’s house for another. The more flexible you can be with visitations, the happier everyone will be.
- Involve the kids
When making arrangements or alterations to the schedule, involve the children whenever it’s practical. Make sure they understand that you may not be able to accommodate their every desire, but simply involving them in the planning can make them feel less like pawns in the whole situation.
- Don’t force one size fits all answers
Be prepared to adjust a child’s visitation schedule as they age and their needs change. Visitation won’t be the same experience for a teenager as it is for a 6-year-old.
- Make it a family affair
Encourage extended family – such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other relatives – to become involved in visitation. It’s easy for other family members to get left out of the loop, but these contacts can provide valuable human resources for a child.
- Share responsibilities
Try to maintain a balance between “fun” and responsible parenting activities for the non-resident parent. If you’re the custodial parent, you should help facilitate this. Avoid the tendency to take care of everything yourself. Try to save some parenting tasks for the other parent to do, such as planning for summer camp with the child, leaving them with the task of helping a child study or being in charge of teaching them about a particular subject, or merely taking turns caring for the kids when they’re home from school sick. Remember that non-resident parents can easily feel out-of-place and useless in this new arrangement. Do your best to find ways they can feel useful again.