Keeping an eye on long-term goals helps put day-to-day decisions and situations in perspective. Academic, athletic and personal responsibility are typical goals parents have for their children. Parental expectations and aspirations have significant impact on the development of a child. This should not be surprising. When children grow up knowing their parents’ aspirations for them they feel supported, and more importantly, they feel their parents have confidence in their ability to achieve those goals.
The popular proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” reminds us that several people contribute to our children’s achievements: teachers, coaches, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and both parents. Over the course of a child’s development, co-parents celebrate graduations, weddings, and other life events together.
The important thing to remember is to let go of what we cannot control. Parenting, as in life in general, goes better when you stay focused on what you are trying to achieve and finding a path to help you get there. Keep positive, and keep moving forward, leaving the past behind you. Focus on the big picture instead of fixating on the small stuff.
When a marriage is over, the family is not. You now have the opportunity to build a completely new relationship with your ex, centered around the well-being and future of your children. Wherever you are in your journey to building a new life, working on good communication will contribute to a brighter, more successful future for your children.
Easy to grasp. But how to start, you ask.
There are some simple techniques that can help parents communicate more effectively, resulting in more successful co-parenting. If you want your children to go far, then you have to remember to “go together” when communicating with your ex. Here are five ways to get there.
1. Hand-off Checklists
When both parents work, maintain independent households, and share in the welfare of their children, life can become hectic. Before school practices, after school activities, evening scouting meetings, religious education, music lessons and practice, to name just a few of the many weekly and/or daily activities. This can be challenging for any parent, even with the best of intentions, and therefore it is often easy to forget to mention something to your co-parent. A simple way to manage consistent communication between parents is to adopt a template or checklist of information emailed at the time of hand-offs. When co-parents adopt this simple checklist approach, it removes the drama, and eventually each parent can appreciate the other as their assistant parent.
For starters, your hand-off checklist can include headings for:
- Medical Updates
- School Updates
- Homework and School Projects
- Before School or After School Updates
- Anticipated Social Events
- Upcoming Appointments (e.g. Parent Teacher Conferences)
- Issues that have Come Up
- Planned Trips: This should include complete travel itinerary and contact phone numbers and addresses
An entry for each topic may be brief, as in “No Change,” or detailed and specific such as “Johnny received a flu vaccine from his pediatrician on Tuesday. The pediatrician mentioned some symptoms to be aware of, such as muscle aches, a headache, a slight fever, or some nausea. Please contact the pediatrician immediately if he runs a high fever, has behavior changes, or shows signs of a severe allergic reaction, such as difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, swelling around the eyes or lips, hives, paleness, weakness, or a fast heart beat or dizziness.”
The hand-off checklist for infants and toddlers may include feeding schedule, nap and sleeping schedule, what helps to soothe and calm the child, new bumps and bruises, medical appointments, vaccinations, illness, medications and developmental milestones.
Pre-school hand-off checklists may include friends, social activities, nursery school or day-care schedules and contact information, religious activities, bed, bath, meal routines and behavior.
The initial hand-off checklist you work out will evolve and develop over time as your family’s needs change. Checklists have several advantages. The information transfer becomes relatively routine in a simple, straight-forward method. The listed items in the checklist serve will as reminders to include information which otherwise could be overlooked.
2. Make Transitions Easy on the Children
As parents, we can help our children handle transitions constructively. Organizing school work, books, projects, special stuffed animals for younger children, and any items that need to be brought with the child in advance makes the transition less stressful for the child. It also reminds the child that they will be leaving for their other home a day or two before the visit.
Dropping off your child at their other parental home may be preferable for some families over picking up the child. This may avoid putting pressure on your child if you show up for a pick-up before they have gathered what they want to bring with them. Rather than being “taken from,” the child is being “given to” his/her co-parent.
A neutral or public drop-off may be beneficial for some families as well. For example, drop-offs at the local library gives the child an opportunity to select new books prior to the hand-off time, and allows them to look forward to reading during his stay with the other parent.
It is important for both parents to be positive about your child’s anticipated time away, and to deliver them on time.
When the child returns home, a home-coming routine may help your child transition back to their other home and reacclimate with the expectations at that home. If you greet them each time, enjoy a favorite game together, and serve the same special meal each time, these are some examples that allow your child to look forward to returning.
3. Annual Calendar for Co-Parents, and Monthly Calendars for the Children
By setting up a 12-month calendar for both co-parents outlining the week-to-week parenting time, holidays, school calendar, vacations, etc., this allows both parents to plan for the time they have with the children, and also to plan personal time while the children are with the other parent. These annual calendars give you more control of your time and scheduling.
It may be easier to work with an electronic, shared calendar, such as Google calendars, rather than writing dates on two sets of paper calendars. There are also several online paid services which have been developed specifically to assist co-parents in scheduling and sharing files, tracking expenses, and messaging, such as:
Having a monthly calendar for your children can be beneficial for the child as well. The monthly calendar for children is more likely to be a printed, color-coded calendar showing which days they spend with each parent. This gives the child a sense of control of their time and life, so they can plan their friend visits and activities accordingly. Co-parents may alternate creating the color-coded calendars and make a color photocopy for the other parent, or one parent may choose to take on the monthly project, doing it jointly with their child. As we have discussed in earlier articles, children want control of their lives as well, and having an easily accessible calendar knowing where they will be, and when, helps them feel more secure.
4. Parenting Plans
Once you have set up your hand-off checklist and annual calendar, you have made it very easy to lay out a collaborative Parenting Plan. Included in the Parenting Plan are agreements on how birthdays and holidays are shared, how transitions between homes are set up, as well as how medical care is provided, including the primary care provider and insurance. The plan can even include an agreement on posting pictures of the children on social media sites. The plan summarizes how decision-making is shared regarding the education, health, and well-being of the children, and where the children reside and when. It may also cover “what if” scenarios, such as one parent re-locating and moving away.
In creating these plans, it is important to think about your current interaction with your ex, and where you want that interaction to be over the course of raising your children together. It is important to also consider big picture and details, which you may decide should go into the plan, or should not go into the plan, depending on your specific circumstances, but by considering these things at the beginning, it will help you to create a plan that fits your family’s needs. These plans are ones that are frequently drafted by experienced family law practitioners, and this is when having an experienced family law attorney to discuss and create different plans and options will help you to achieve your overall goals.
And don’t forget that you matter, as well. Ever hear the expression, “If Momma ain’t happy, no one’s gonna be happy”? Well, that applies to Papa as well.
Protect your personal time to include time to feel good about yourself. Importantly, schedule your time to include exercise. Exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which react in your brain, triggering a positive feeling. Whether your exercise of choice is yoga, pilates, walking, running, cycling, swimming, or rock climbing, it is all good. Your body will thank you, your mind will thank you, and your children will appreciate your sense of good feeling – whether they thank you or not.
Consider these five concrete steps a pathway to getting to what you want for your children. Psychologists characterize these steps as a strategic problem solving approach. By setting up these procedures, you have made it simple to:
- Exchange information about your children’s needs and priorities
- Build co-parenting responsibilities based on shared concerns
- Jointly search for the best solutions to parental issues as they arise
For more information, or to talk about your custody case with one of our licensed and experienced New Jersey family law attorneys, give our office a call at 973-718-7705.