Making Parenting Time Work in Divorce
Jenny arrived at the mediation session before Dan—visibly fuming. After a few polite preliminaries, she bluntly stated. “My son will NOT spend one night at his father’s house.”
As I tried to explain parenting guidelines, she exploded, “I don’t care what the parenting guidelines say! Dan has never raised a finger to care for Jason, and I know he won’t start now. If we are going to try to mediate, you might as well know I will not give away one moment of MY time with Jason. Ever!”
As it turns out, Jenny isn’t alone.
Divorcing parents dread losing time with their children. Even the most cooperative struggle with the thought of missing morning breakfasts or nighttime snuggles.
When one parent has done the lion’s share of the parenting, the struggle goes even deeper–for both parents.
As Jenny and Dan demonstrated—Jenny had bonded so deeply with Jason that she couldn’t picture him going through their daily routine without her. She struggled even more at the thought of him facing his first day of school or a serious illness away from her.
On his side, Dan felt clueless about parenting, And, terrified of trying. Yet, he deeply loved his son and wanted to establish a better relationship.
Could parents so far apart find a foundation for cooperating?
A few changes in their thinking made all the difference.
Adjustment 1: Create a vision for children’s future
All too often parents label their own desires as “the best interests of their children.” Once parents head down this path, cooperation dissolves.
There’s a better way.
Parents should take time to concretely visualize what they want for their children’s future. Then, put that vision on paper. When parents do this, they often discover that they want much the same thing.
Most parents want their children to show respect for others. To be kind. To be cooperative. To be happy and well-adjusted. As parents consider the character traits they want in their children, they come to realize something important. Children only develop these if parents exhibit them.
If parents want children to be respectful, kind, and cooperative—parents must treat each other this way. By taking the focus off their own desires and putting it on their common vision for their children, parents find a reason to cooperate.
As Jenny thought about some of the traits she wanted in her son (such as a sense of humor and high self-esteem), she realized that Jason’s best source for these was Dan. Dan had won her heart by making her laugh. Because she was the more serious parent, Jason needed Dan’s playful side. By focusing on Jason’s needs, Jenny came to appreciate Dan’s role in filling some of them. For Dan to do this, he needed parenting time.
Adjustment 2–Build parenting plans around parents’ abilities, not arbitrary numbers
Jenny had provided much of Jason’s care because Dan traveled extensively for work. Though Dan wanted 50-50 time, he knew he wouldn’t be in town to carry it out.
Yet, Dan felt that if he didn’t push for even time, Jason would think Dan didn’t want to be with him. More, Dan was sure he would he be squeezed out of Jason’s life if he didn’t push for an even split now. Dan pushed to “preserve his rights,” planning to hire help to cover the time he was away.
Jenny rejected this plan outright. She was having a hard enough time giving up her time to Dan. She certainly wasn’t going to give up time to a sitter.
In mediation, Jenny and Dan learned to step back from their ideas about time and instead focus on what each parent had to give. Dan’s cyclical travel schedule coincided with busy spurts at Jenny’s job. As each put their best times to care for Jason on a calendar, a natural schedule emerged. One tailored to their own best availability. With a few tweaks, they were both excited to see that they could each spend quality time with Jason while also getting the time they needed for work.
Adjustment 3: Recognize parents’ own need for personal time
Jenny and Dan began by implementing their schedule on a trial basis. As Dan’s willingly took advice from Jenny for tips on Jason’s routine, on games to play, and on meals to fix–Jenny relaxed. As she did, she discovered something important. The breaks from parenting during Dan’s time made her a better mom on her own time.
Adjustment to the divorce, along with returning to work, had taken a huge toll. Though she desperately missed Jason, the breaks gave her time to process all the changes and heal. She also used the free nights to finish work, clean her house, and even enjoy time with friends. Then, when Jason returned—Jenny was recharged and ready to focus on him.
Many parents approach parenting plans thinking, “How do we divide the children?” That framework just leads to more conflict.
Instead, when parents think, “How do we pool our resources to care for the children?” they find a way. A way that benefits everyone.
If you are considering divorce and have children, we can help you navigate divorce in a way that protects your children. And, yourself. For information feel free to call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We look forward to serving you.