I was recently asked the question: Do we need a parenting schedule? Here are a few thoughts that parents may find helpful.
For most families, a schedule of what dates the child will spend with either parent is of great value, for every member of the family.
Children will not feel torn: The recently celebrated Christmas holiday serves as a good example of how children can feel conflicted, if deciding which parent they will spend time with is left up to them. Do you think your kids might have felt this way? “If I’m with Mom, will I make Dad feel bad? And, if I’m with Dad, won’t Mom be lonely, and feel that I love Dad more than her?”
For a lot of children, being put in the position of having to choose is a no-win situation; whatever the decision, the child feels disloyal to someone.
Note that many holidays can be “split” in some manner. Hanukkah, also celebrated last month, is eight days long. Often, it is possible for a child to spend at least a day or two with one parent, and the remainder with the other. Depending on the circumstances, a child may be able to be with Dad on Christmas Eve and Mom on Christmas Day, or vice-versa.
Also note that older children may need a different arrangement; or even no arrangement. My daughter, recently turned 18 and living at college, had long been looking forward to tossing out the parenting schedule she had been living under. Although she had said that she believed the schedule we had was the best one possible, and though her mother and I were very flexible about our daughter being with the other parent when something came up — which our teenager recognized and appreciated — a schedule was nevertheless confining for her.
Since she turned age 16 or so, I had been hearing, “One thing I look forward to about college is not having a schedule of when to be with you and Mom.” I had my doubts; wouldn’t those conflicted feelings that often come from having to choose which parent to spend time with still be there? But, she loves the new freedom, and no schedule is a big success for this child of divorce. (It helps a lot that both of her parents are very easy going about this, and that our daughter wants to — and makes a point of — visiting with each of us, though we don’t know weeks in advance when to expect her.
Will no schedule work in your situation when your child heads off to college? I couldn’t say, and am only grateful that it is successful here. As one who shares information with others about parenting during separation or divorce, I still can’t say that I would necessarily recommend not having a parenting schedule. It depends so much on your child, and on you the parent, too. If your child wants to try it, can you be supportive? Or, will you make every one of your kid’s trips home a guilt trip as well?
Parenting schedules benefit parents, too! Want to go out with friends? Take a class? Run errands? Go shopping? Sleep in? With a schedule in place, you’ll know when you can, and find planning ahead much easier to do.
For many parents, a schedule also has the great benefit of reducing the conversations and interactions with the other spouse. If you’ve agreed about which parent your child will be with, and when, there should be fewer occasions to discuss and argue over these questions. If one parent has just been “showing up” to see or take the children whenever he feels like it, a schedule should help to end that behavior.
Need help in creating or revising a parenting schedule? Consider trying on your own; there are books and websites to help you. Otherwise, give some thought to mediation; parenting schedules are a big part of what divorce mediators do.
New York City and Long Island-based divorce mediator and collaborative divorce lawyer Lee Chabin helps clients end their relationships respectfully and without going to court. Contact him at lee_chabi
Disclaimer: All material in this column is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.