How to Succeed at Raising Your Kids Together, Apart
A significant number of the divorces we assist involve children. Some of these marriages end amicably; others do not. But no matter how your marriage ends, you and your ex will share something in common for the rest of your lives: your love for your kids.
Here are a few tips for keeping the kids your number-one focus as you navigate this next chapter with your ex.
Plan holidays ahead of time
"When you and your ex raised your children together, you probably created some family traditions. Maintaining holiday traditions, like Santa arriving Christmas Eve, reinforces normalcy and helps kids feel more secure." – Christine Powers-Leatherberry, Connatser Family Law
If you haven't started planning the holidays with your ex, start now. If you and your ex are unable to come to an agreement, you may need the court's assistance, and it can take four to ten weeks to get a hearing. To start, ask yourself these questions:
- During winter break, is it important to you that the kids spend equal time with both parents?
- Is Thanksgiving more important to you than Christmas?
- What time do Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or other festivities typically begin for your family and your ex's family? Does the timing allow for your child to take part in both family celebrations?
- What kind of travel time is required during the holidays? If travel time means your child can't spend time with both families, consider adopting an every-other-year schedule.
If you already have a court order or parenting plan in place, review it annually. Time changes things. As your kids get older, they may be able to spend longer periods away from each parent. Often, the conflict lessens, and holidays become easier for you and your ex to navigate.
Maintain a shared calendar
"As a divorce lawyer and a co-parent with an ex, I can tell you that communication should be on autopilot. 'Yes' and 'no' by text are perfect ways to communicate. There should be no emotion in the response. Stick to facts. Try to build mechanisms so you have to communicate as little as possible. For example, use Google Calendar to notify one another of events, and have communication from school sent directly to both parents." – Amy Saunders, Esq., Legal Solutions
As hard as it may be for you, for the good of your kids, it's important that you and your ex communicate regularly about their schedules. Here are two apps we like:
- Google Calendar: It's free, and by sharing a calendar, you and your ex can both add and edit. The Google calendar can sync with your phone and thus your other calendars, making it easy to schedule custody-sharing around everything else in your life.
- Our Family Wizard: This app lets you create a family calendar and offers a message board. All communication through the app is recorded, so if there's ever an issue, you have a complete record of calendar dates and messages between you. Bonus: Older kids can download the app to access the family calendar, keeping them informed of their own schedules.
Keep kids in the loop
"My recommendation is to get past the anger of the separation and remember you were entrusted with one of the greatest responsibilities in this universe: to raise mentally and emotionally stable, productive young people who are capable of making positive contributions to society. An angry and confused child is a possible starting point, but it definitely doesn't have to continue that way." – Dr. LaFarra Young-Gaylor, Young Pathology, PLLC
Regardless of a child's age, keeping them in the loop about their own schedule is key to helping them feel part of this, not like an object shuttled from home to home. Incorporate these strategies to keep the kids in the loop:
- Use a visual custody calendar. A strategically placed whiteboard or regular calendar will do. If a child is very young, use photos or drawings of Mom or Dad to denote the custody schedule. For older kids, add more details, including other live events (soccer practices, trips to Grandma's, and such).
- Talk about upcoming plans. Especially for younger children, verbal repetition of weekly plans is important. When the time comes for custody transfer, having talked about it frequently ahead of time will help your child stay calm and confident during the transition.
- Focus on the positive. The night before a custody transition, talk with your child about the fun things they plan to do with Mom or Dad. This reinforces the mindset that they're about to have a different kind of fun. Help them pack clothes, toys, or other items, such as a favorite game or this week's artwork, to share with the other parent.
Above all, remember the top rule of co-parenting: It's about the kids, not you. Yes, it can be extremely hard, but the more you separate your marital conflict from your co-parenting experience, the easier it will be for your child to feel loved by both parents, equally.