Credit: phaewilk @ morgueFileThe break up of a family unit is still as traumatic as it is common. Regardless of the reasons for the split of the parents, undertaking to continue raising the children together is both challenging and rewarding - for everyone. It is obviously good for the children involved as they keep strong relationships with both parents and have everything they need in each household. But it is a win for the parents as well. Speak to any single parent, who can't remember the last time they had a night off, and you will soon see the benefits.
Week on, week off parenting is becoming more common and once the system is in place you will find it flows fairly smoothly. There are some challenges you experience, not least of which is constant communication with your ex. Here are some things to consider when setting up a divided, but unified home for your children.
After a year or two, your kids may barely notice that they have moved from mom's to dad's. It will become second nature for all involved. One of the key aspects to this smooth transition, is determining the best day for the change. And this may change over time. It may initially happen on Monday after school, so the parent who does the work during the week gets the pleasures of the full weekend as well. However, it could be as your children grow older, that picking your children up from school on Monday means that important school stuff is left at their other home. Take the time to assess the situation every now and again. You can not change it too often or it will stop being smooth and once again as source of stress and contention. Make sure whichever day of the week you choose to do the home swap, plans are in place to move the treasured stuffed animal or the chemistry text-book. It isn't your child's fault that they have shift belongings between two homes.
One of the benefits of having a dual parenting system is that you will rarely need to call on a sitter to look after your children. As a single parent with backup, you will naturally schedule your own social life around your children's time with you. Some events however, simply can not wait. If it is your ex's weekend with the kids, but if he has wedding invitation that doesn't include the children, then step in and offer to have them. You never know when you will want that favor reciprocated. You may also find that work compels one parent out-of-town or to stay late in the office during their week with the kids. Step in if you can. Your children receive the benefit, even if it puts extra strain on your life.
If one parent works at home while the other has long hours at an office and after school childcare will be a problem for that parent, then by all means the children should spend school afternoons with the parent who has the home office or flexible hours. It isn't a case of doing more or uneven division of time, it is what is best for the children. The parent who goes into the office should then be responsible for the children's transportation to their other home in the evenings. But they should not expect to have all the homework done and bathed and so on. Be realistic on the give and take. Parenting is hard work, regardless of how much help you have.
Keeping On Top of Children's Schedules
Regardless of whether it is your week or not, you need to know that the science project is due. You may expect that your ex knows what is going on in that week, some things slip. It is no longer one or the other parent's responsibility, it is now both of yours. When your child has tests or sports games or a friend's birthday party, both of you need to know so that you can always pick up where things were left off. It is important in ensuring the continuity your children need when they have two homes.
Share Your News
You need to let your ex know what is going on in your life if it affects your children in any way. The other house doesn't need to know if you have a new toaster, but they should know if you have a new Playstation that your kids spend hours on. If dinner time switches from 6pm to 7pm in one house, that affects what happens in the other. Bigger news includes an elderly grandparent falling ill or a planned holiday to the coast. One of the most important things your ex needs to know is when new people come into your children's lives, especially new relationships. It is uncomfortable sharing this kind of information with an ex. But unless your children have no idea whatsoever that there is a new relationship in your life, then their other parent needs to know. You can not ask your kids to keep your life private from the people they trust as this will lead to severe problems with the split household system.
Share the Holidays
Birthdays are important for all children. So is any other holiday that involves family or gifts, like Christmas. Regardless of the schedule, if both parents are at home in the same city during one of these holidays, then split the day. They may wake up and fall asleep in the same house, after spending a few hours at their other home. But the day should always "belong" to one parent or another. For example, if it is your turn to take the kids to visit your parents this Christmas, your ex must have the right to do the same next year. If you are considering taking the kids away from home for any holiday, you should let your ex know before the plane tickets are even booked.
In general, parents who share the childcare responsibilities after a separation typically don't find themselves back in court fighting for money or sole custody a few years down the line. All the same, it is more difficult to decide who responsible for day-to-day needs in your childs' lives. Think of emails granting permission to take the kids on a vacation out of the country or sending pictures of their newly painted bedrooms as addendum to the divorce papers. Because you are constantly in contact with your ex, you will always be prone to an argument. It is better that you have covered your bases when you didn't need to rather than the reverse.
Be Lenient and Forgiving
If your ex forgets an important day in your child's life or broken arm happens on their watch, it isn't the end of the world. And unless you have very strong beliefs against a camping trip or other activity your ex is planning for the children, you need to allow it to happen. Remember any parent that is putting in amount work that your ex is, really does have the best interests of your children at heart. What isn't ideal for you, might be for your ex. And it is important that your children have all the experiences that both parents offer them. Afterall, these things are all just as likely to have happened when you were still together.
However you choose to share your parenting responsibilities with your ex, just remember it takes a lot of effort on your part, as well as anyone you share your life with. The only people who should never be affected by whatever arguments or stresses that occur are your children. It is difficult, but just remember it is about them - not about you.