This blog is the focus on the second tip for minimising the effects of your separation on your children. It’s about finding a system that works for you, and, crucially, works for your children. We often get asked what the ‘usual’ arrangements are for separating parents. The truth is that there is no such thing. There is no law, rule or specified time that each parent must spend with their children following a separation. There are only arrangements that will work for your family. The key element is that your children get to have a meaningful relationship with both their parents. What that looks like in practice will depend on a whole host of factors that might include:
- The age of your children.
- The hours and location of each of your jobs.
- The activities your children do.
- Any special needs your children have – this might be things such as autism, or it might be that they are particularly emotional at the current time.
- The need for childcare and what is available to you or a desire to minimise the amount of childcare you use.
- Your children’s wishes.
- Any particular commitments either of you have – this might include a wish to still make your favourite exercise class post separation, or it might include now working evenings or taking on another job.
Clarity is definitely important in making arrangements. If both parents aren’t sure when the children will be with them then there is scope for confusion and something slipping through the net. Clarity also helps children who want to understand when they’ll be with mum, when they’ll be with dad and when they might be with another family member or friend, or in a childcare setting. Children function best with a clear routine and an understanding of where they will be at what time. Having a set routine means everybody can make plans knowing when their plans include children and when they don’t. Children know when they’ll be in mum’s home and when they’ll be in Dad’s home and older children can organise themselves accordingly. Younger children can start to do this with help.
Often clients worry about a set routine fearing that it won’t allow for any flexibility to accommodate a welcome night out with friends, or an unexpected business trip. Having a routine doesn’t rule out changes being made at certain points. But be clear about what changes you need to make and give as much notice as possible. The other parent is far more likely to be able to accommodate a change if they are given a few weeks’ notice rather than having something thrust upon them two days beforehand.
Having a system to deal with changes can be helpful. Some separated couples sit down together every month or two and look at any changes that they may need to make to their routine. Other separated parents send each other a list of date changes via email on a regular basis. Again there is no right way of doing things just the way that works for you. I talk more about this in the facebook live I did following up on this blog.
We would stress at this point that it’s important that any system works for both of you. If one of you uses an electronic online calendar and one of you likes to use a paper diary and a calendar hanging in the kitchen, for example, then it’s important that the system for the routine, and for making changes, works for both of you.
If you find communicating about arrangements difficult then there are online tools you can use to help you manage your arrangements such as www.ourfamilywizard.co.uk. You can also print off schedules for children (or use a picture calendar for very young children) so that everybody is clear about when your children are with mum and when they’re with dad. If picking up and dropping off becomes an argument then try these tips:
- Have a book that you write key information in so that pick up and drop offs can be limited in conversation. This should include any information that you both consider to be key such as whether the children have eaten; whether they have had, or need, any medicine; any bumps or scrapes or complaints about feeling unwell that have been happening; whether they were upset about anything in particular; and what homework or learning has been done for school age children.
- Often people concentrate on the other person’s behaviour wishing with all their heart that the other person would change so that things would be different. You have no control over another person’s behaviour but you can control you own behaviour and how you react to things. By choosing to behave differently yourself this can in itself trigger the other person to behave in a different way. Not engaging in any kind of heated behaviour so not reacting or getting cross about things can often shut down a potential argument before it’s begun. Clients in mediation with us are often amazed at how different things can be when they behave differently, rather than waiting for the other person to behave differently.
- Mediation can be really helpful in assisting separated (or separating) couples to talk about what’s happening and how they would like things to be different. The trained third person can help to keep discussions on track and they can give you tools and suggestions to help you make changes to assist your communication.
Stay tuned to our blog as next week we will be talking about the importance of arrangements being child focussed. It may sound obvious but it’s a crucial part of making things work for your children. If you’d like to get all our free resources then sign up to our free mailing list. If you’re a professional working with clients who separate then join our professionals mailing list.