Parenting in one home is a challenge, and parenting in two homes can be especially hard. When a break up is fresh, it can be difficult for parents to set aside their emotions and focus on their children’s needs. The newness of exchanging the children will eventually become a routine, normal process. The children are learning from both of you about how to adjust to change. Maintaining a business-like relationship with the other parent is best for your children when exchanging information about their schedules or activities. The role of a noncustodial parent can be challenging, especially if the separation was difficult.
This information can help you develop or sustain positive relationships with the custodial parent and stay involved in your child’s life.
Children benefit when parents communicate about their child’s school activities and progress. If communication is limited, important information does not get relayed to the other parent, such as homework assignments, upcoming tests, and your child’s grades. Make sure the school has your current address and telephone numbers. Let the school know if you move or change cell and work phone numbers or email addresses. Try to attend all school activities. Keep the focus on your child.
Learn the names of your child’s teachers and ask for a copy (offer to pay copying costs) or a link to each class’ curriculum, and a list of special projects and due dates. This helps you stay current with your child’s subjects, and to be a resource on special projects when your child is with you. For example, if you know magnets will be studied over the next semester, you can prepare your child in advance with books or games involving magnets.
The standard parenting order has provisions to assist parents in staying actively involved in their children’s lives. Check the powers and duties section of the parenting order about your rights to consult with school officials. Make sure the school names you as one of the contacts in case of an emergency involving your child. Let the school know you want to receive the school newsletter, be on the list serve, and join their other social media options. If your order permits school access, give a copy of your order to put in your child’s school record. Ask for the school’s policy on parents having lunch with their children and check your court order as well.
A Note On Dating
When you start dating, things can get complicated. Check out these tips to keep things running smoothly:
Don’t introduce a new boyfriend or girlfriend to your child until you have been dating a long time and you are planning a future with that person. Children bond easily. If they grow attached to someone you are dating, they will suffer from a breakup. The amount of time to wait before introducing a person you are seeing will vary according to your children’s ages. One exception is that children younger than five only need to know you are seeing a friend.
Not every dating relationship will reach a level of commitment that requires meeting your children. Will this new person be around for a long time and be a positive influence on your children?
Children want to know who is picking them up. Your child looks forward to seeing you and your presence shows you are making your time together a priority. Do not bring someone with you that you’ve just started to date. Show your children they come first – keep pick up and drop off arrangements between Mom and Dad or other friends/relatives that you child knows and trusts.
Getting Along Matters
Parenting is a tough job, even when both parents are involved in the child’s upbringing. Children benefit when responsible adult relatives are available to step in when parents need help. Relatives’ work schedules may allow them to pick up a sick child from school or provide after school care.
Extended family relationships can improve the child’s sense of identity and belonging. Children can learn lessons or skills from extended relatives whose set of skills or interests may differ from those of their parents.
Children benefit from spending time with mom’s family and with dad’s family. Kids love to hear stories about what their parents were like as children. Kids learn about family traditions and history through stories and photos that older relatives share. Children learn about problem solving watching other adults and children talk and play together and work out problems.
Tips for Getting Along
- Stick to sharing facts and information about your child.
- Don’t share personal information unless it relates to raising your child.
- Be polite and courteous at all times.
- Treat the other parent like a co-worker or business partner.
- Build trust by doing exactly what you say you will do.
- Don’t assume the other parent knows what you mean. Say exactly what you mean, every time.
- Keep negative emotions out of the conversation.
Schedule a time and place when you each have time to discuss fully potentially difficult issues when the children are not present, such as lunchtime when the children are at school or daycare. An alternative would be to schedule a telephone call when you know the children won’t be around to overhear the conversation. Use “I” messages instead of “You always” to say how you feel or what things you would like to see change. Listen to the other’s point of view.
Email and text communications can be printed and tracked by both parents, so keep it clean and keep it focused on the child. Emails and texts and other forms of electronic communication or records can be used in court. Keep a copy of the originals to make sure there is no distortion of what might get be presented in court.
Children often have a hard time going from one home to another. Give your child a quiet time, if possible, before and after each exchange. Your child may feel sad at leaving one parent, yet be excited about seeing the other parent. It is an emotionally difficult time for your child, who feels loyal to both parents. Both parents can prepare the child for the upcoming exchange by talking about it and respecting the child’s right to miss the other parent. This is what you would want if the child were missing you.
Put your child at ease during travel between homes. At the exchange, say something positive about your child to the other parent. Children thrive on parental approval. If you compliment your child’s latest piece of artwork or brag about the last sporting event (great catch!), watch your child light up.
Talking directly with the other parent keeps your child from being put in the middle. Children feel in the middle when they have to pass messages that are verbal or written. Children do not want to hear about adult issues, such as finances, child support, and why you broke up. Regardless of their age, all children want to stay out of their parents’ fights. Children learn to communicate by listening to how mom and dad talk. What are your children learning from you?
Talking with the other parent will get easier with practice. Create and maintain a schedule of routine contact with the other parent. Talking about your children–especially during emotionally difficult times–allows you both to focus on what’s best for your child. This will get easier as both of you heal from the break-up and move on with your lives.
Children thrive on routine. Establishing a consistent routine builds security and trust. Consistency also makes it easier to swap times when schedules occasionally change (if you are ill or must work an extra shift). Flexibility builds good will that will stay with you during difficult times.
Talking with the other parent about your child’s health, shifting interests, and problems or successes helps both of you maintain a good relationship with your child.
Minimize conflict during the transition from one parent’s home to another by:
- Detaching your emotions from the situation
- Treating the situation like a business transaction at a store
- Keeping the exchange brief and civil
- Agreeing to meet in a neutral, public place if having strangers around makes it easier
- Withholding your comments and opinions
- Honoring your child’s right to a relationship with both parents.
Grandparents and other extended family members who were important to your child before the break up can be especially important afterward. Extended family on both sides can often be a source of comfort to your child and may be able to help you with exchanges and childcare as needed.
Pay your child support. Although this is not a reason for the custodial parent to deny visitation, failing to pay may stir up an already difficult situation. Paying child support shows a parent’s commitment to provide for the child.