by Barbara Badolato, CSW
What do my divorcing clients fear most? Coming up with a Parenting Plan that is best for their children. Here are three things that can make a world of difference.
One: You are the Expert on Your Family
People come into my office all the time convinced that creating a Parenting Plan will be complicated and painful. They think, ‘we don’t know where to start. We need an expert to tell us what to do because we don’t want to make a mistake.’
Often they’re looking for someone–a judge, a social worker, a friend, a lawyer–to answer the question: ‘What’s best for our children?’
The truth is, no one is better suited than you to make these parenting decisions. No one knows your children and your lifestyle better than you do.
The best thing you can do is take a deep breath, put your heads together and remember, ‘We were doing a great job with our children when we were living together. How can we come up with a solution that will help us continue to do a great job, and which will allow us both to be strong and important influences in our children’s lives–even when we are no longer living in the same home?”
TWO: The Best Arrangements Focus on the Kids, Not the Schedules
Taking the time to create a positive Parenting Plan and formalize it in your Agreement is very important. Once it’s done, you can feel good knowing it’s there in the days and weeks ahead, when life gets complicated and you need more structure. However, the best Parenting Plans in the world are the ones where the parents are willing to be as helpful, supportive and flexible as possible when it comes to the needs of their children. Rather than fixating on the schedule in your Parenting Plan, it is more constructive to focus on this idea: What do we have to do for the kids right now to get them successfully through the week?
For example, maybe you get your children every other weekend, but you’ve always been the parent who attended all the soccer games. Will everyone be happier if you’re the one who takes on soccer duty? Can you come together with your spouse and say, “I know I have every other weekend, but I think it would be good for Sara if I could be at the soccer games. Can we make that work?”
THREE: If You Can’t Get Along, Focus on the Schedule
Despite what I said above, if you’re a couple that just can not cooperate, and you’re experiencing a very conflicted divorce, then a flexible arrangement is not a good idea. You need more structure and less discussion in order to minimize conflict. Trying to discuss and re-negotiate each week will be stressful for your and your children, so sticking to the rules will make transitions as easy as possible.
Barbara Badolatois a certified social worker and a partner at Divorce Mediation Professionals. She has twenty-five years of experience working with couples in divorce mediation, and she specializes in the emotional aspects and financial concerns of couples going through separation and divorce. She is active in the training and continuing education of other mediators in the field and has made numerous presentations at programs and conferences sponsored by The New York State Council on Divorce Mediation, The Academy of Family Mediators and the Family and Divorce Mediation Council of Greater New York. Barbara has been affiliated with Stony Brook University School of Social Work as a field instructor, and is also in private practice working with individuals and doing couple’s therapy.