One of the most complicated and nuanced parts of the dissolution of two parents’ relationship, be it through the process of divorce or through a “parentage” action (where parents are not married), is developing a schedule of parenting time where each parent feels like he or she can continue to be a meaningful part of their child’s life notwithstanding the change of circumstances of one household to two.
Plenty of my clients are dismayed by the thought of not spending their every waking moment with their children (when they are not engaged in school, camp or otherwise social functions or activities) and feel like they are handed a death sentence simply for wanting to alter their relationship with the individual with whom they chose to have children. It is a devastating feeling to know that your child is spending time with the “other parent,” to whom you no longer like, trust or simply feel connected.
When I am asked to come up with creative solutions to “level the playing field” of parenting time, one of the most accessible solutions is to focus on those two (often two-and-a-half) months of summer vacation that most children enjoy. Parents forget the enormous amount of time children are given each summer to play and relax — time that is ripe for strengthening their bond with their kids, who do not have strict “school night” bedtimes, who can play outside long after dinner is done and who can take vacations without being penalized for missed school days.
So what does a “creative” summertime parenting schedule look like? While I am often asked about a week-on, week-off schedule as a solution to avoid the ping-pong effect of changing households, the biggest issue that presents is that a child will go seven days without having significant time with the other parent (even if you insert a dinner or two mid-week). Instead, I will recommend to parents a “2-2-3” schedule, which often looks like this: Monday and Tuesday day and overnight with Parent 1, Wednesday and Thursday day and overnight with Parent 2, and alternating weekends from Friday morning through Monday morning.
This is a win-win for both parents and kids; not only does this type of schedule give each parent the ability to see their child every few days, but children are less stressed when they get to see each parent on a consistent basis. Moreover, with summer schedules allowing for more flexibility for later bedtime routines, no homework and out-of-town travel opportunities, family time becomes quality time.
While family conflict can be heart-wrenching, parents should not and must not feel hopeless and panicked about not being with their children. With a little creativity and flexibility, stability — even in divided households — can be achieved.