Hard Questions

Can I genuinely say that I am working to be the best parent I can be for my child?

The answer to this question is clear.  Almost everyone wants to be the best parent for their child and to provide for their child

Can I genuinely say that I am doing everything I can to encourage my child to have the best relationship possible with their other parent?

This is a challenging question for a parent to answer, especially as they are going through a divorce.  It is always important to encourage a good relationship between your child and the child’s other parent.  You need to make sure you are telling your child that you truly want them to be close with both their parents.  This is the most loving and healthy thing for your child.

If you, as a parent, are not encouraging and supporting your child’s relationship with their other parent, you are not truly doing everything you can to be the best parent for your child.

One point of view in regard to separation and divorce is that you should not think of the situation as an event, but rather look at the separation and divorce as one of many life-changing events that your child will experience.  Some life-changing events for a child that come after the separation of the parents are:

  • Living in two households;
  • Going back and forth, and having possessions at each house;
  • Parents dating;
  • Parents remarrying;
  • Stepparent and loyalty conflicts regarding the same-sex parent;
  • Step-siblings;
  • Half-siblings.

As a parent, your child will look to see how you are able to handle the events that take place after the separation as a guide for how they should respond.  When you are able to think about your child’s needs, your child will be more likely to be handle the new situations in their new life better.

In contrast, if your child has to figure out how to handle all these new situations while feeling responsible for their parents’ feelings, the separation and divorce will be very difficult on the child.  Parents should consider the following questions:

  • Am I putting my child’s needs first?
  • Am I doing ____ because this is what’s best for my child?
    • Or for vengeance against my ex-spouse?
    • to “win” against my ex-spouse?
    • to have rigid equality?
  • Will it help my child if I…
    • have an argument in front of her?
    • insist that she keep anything that I bought her at my house?
    • refuse to let her go to a special event because of “our time”?

The Child’s Eyes

Self-centered beings is another term that can be use to describe children.  It is normal and developmentally appropriate for children to focus on their needs and wants first.  Parents need to understand this in order to constantly make the best choices to help their children navigate the separation and divorce of their parents.

Safety is the first thing that children need, to be safe currently and know that they will continue to be safe.  Your child will be concerned about if their basic needs will be met with this huge life change happening.  When parents separate, a child’s confidence in the family decreases because this is not something they thought would happen to them.

Typical questions would be:

  • What will this mean to me?
  • If mom could leave dad (or vice-versa), could she (or he) leave me?
  • If they break up or stop loving each other, could that happen to me?
  • Could they stop loving me?

As a parent, you need to constantly remind your child:

  • I will always be your mommy.
  • Daddy will always be your daddy.
  • We will always love you; that will never change.

As with any other lesson you are teaching your child, you need to consistently repeat these messages.  Children do not always hear everything a parent says or forget parts of what has been said to them, especially children who are having emotional distress.  It is important that information about the divorce and any upcoming changes also be repeated over and over.

Living Arrangements

Is there an optimal living arrangement for a child after a divorce?  There is no perfect plan for living arrangements for a child.  Each situation has its own unique challenges and each family needs to figure out what will work best for them.

Is there a secret for successful time-sharing arrangements? The most important thing needed for success is that both parents need to agree to the plan.  Both parents should discuss and develop the plan in conjunction with each other.  If both parents create the plan together, they will both be invested in making sure the plan works.

You should think about custody and living arrangements as time-sharing, not one person having custody with the other one just visiting.  The parent who is not the custodian might have challenges with seeing themselves as just a visiting parent, not the parent.  Each parent plays a significant role in the life of the child, even the non-custodial parent.

A visitation/living arrangement plan should also be revised as needed.  As children get older, their needs change and so should the plan.  What worked when the child was 4 may not work when they are 9, which might not work when the child is 16.  Usually, a younger child needs short and frequent visits that may or may not include overnights.

Children in elementary school tend to do better with contact that is less frequent but longer when it takes place; overnights, weekends, vacations.  This would be similar to the classic visitation schedule of every-other-weekend and a mid-week visit.

During the teenage years, a regular visitation schedule may not be practical.  Teenagers have relationship with peers, extra-curricular activities, etc.  The visitation may need to be more dinners, outings, occasional longer get-togethers, and vacations.  When your children are teenagers, as a parent, you need to be flexible and not think that the child is rejecting you when they have other plans that they prefer.

The non-custodial parent needs to be aware that they play a huge role in their child’s life even if the child does not live with them.  If you have a difficult relationship with your ex, your time sharing arrangement should be simple because more complex visitation arrangements will require both parents to have frequent communication, which would be difficult when your contact with your ex is not always positive.

It is very typical for children to misbehave or show signs of distress when they come back from a visit.  This is not necessarily a sign of problems with the visitation arrangement or that the other parent is doing something wrong.  Transitions are very stressful for children and they need time to adjust to their new surrounding each time they go from house to house.

No matter what your visitation agreement looks like, make sure the time spent with your child is happy and healthy.