When you split up, a lot of time and energy goes into what’s fair.
Even if things are amicable, when couples start dividing up what they own and owe, conversations quickly go from calm to heated.
And when you add parenting schedules and kids to the mix, things can become really complicated really fast.
Emotions run high. Lawyers get involved. Before you know it you’re drowning in legal paperwork and phone meetings. Court dates get set. Negotiations fail. Disagreements and bickering happen daily.
When it feels like your ex is getting everything they want and you aren’t, it may seem like you’ve lost somehow, and they’ve won.
So you dig in your heels determined not to give your ex another inch. If they ask you to pick up the kids 3 hours early during your time, then they better be prepared to bring them back 3 hours early.
But in the midst of all this tug-of-war over who’s winning or losing and keeping things fair, have you stopped to consider:
One of the first things that parents grapple with after they split-up is figuring out how much time each one gets to spend with the kids.
If parents have an amicable relationship, they may easily figure out an arrangement that feels “fair” to them. May be you settle on one week on/one week off kind of thing, or perhaps you settle on a midweek switch. For others it may involve negotiating weekends and summer vacations.
If parents can’t agree, the decision may have to be made by a judge.
Here’s something to consider, especially if you’re still unsure or in the midst of figuring out your parenting plan:
Do you really want a stranger (aka judge) to be making decisions about what’s best for your kids?
From my professional experience working with parents who ended up in court. I can tell you in divorce there are no winners. Everybody ends up losing something. And usually it’s the kids who end up losing the most.
Think about it. Your children love both of you and more than anything they want to BE WITH both of you. They didn’t ask for a separation or divorce. They don’t want their lives to change. And they don’t want to lose their relationship with either parent.
You may have your own ideas of what’s “fair” with regard to how much time you’ll get to spend with your kids. You may even feel like your ideas are what’s best for the kids. But consider this…What do you think is more important to your children, that the time they spend with each parent is exactly even, or the fact that their parents won’t stop arguing about how much time they spend in each home?
So what’s the alternative?
What's best for kids is both parents in good faith facilitating and supporting one another’s relationship with children. While we could easily debate for decades about the issues of quantity versus quality, the emphasis here is clear.
If you are struggling with giving ground, remember, you’re not doing it for your ex. You’re doing it for your children. Your children need a quality relationship with both parents, regardless of what seems fair to you.
Your other task as a co-parent is to ensure that there is maximum continuity in your children’s life, which means minimizing change as much as possible. Ask yourself, what was life like for your children BEFORE you split up?
If your ex travels for work a lot and is used to calling the kids every night, how can you continue that routine?
If Mom usually takes Jamie to Girls Scouts every Tuesday, what will it take to make that happen after the split?
Suppose Mom has been the one who communicates with the school and typically keeps Dad in the loop. Now that you’re not together how will you share information?
While some disruption is unavoidable, what you need to know is this:
To ensure your children’s happiness and wellbeing, it’s important to maintain their regular schedules and routines as much as possible. That may mean giving up the notion of what’s “fair” and doing what’s “best” for your kids.
It also means making sure you do whatever you can to maintain a sense of family no matter how much time your kids spend under your roof. Make sure you are having regular meals as a family, do your best to keep kids active in sports, and maintain their access to supportive people outside your immediate family.
Consistency in their day-to-day lives will help your children feel more secure while they adjust to the separation. If possible, avoid making significant changes such as moving, changing schools, or withdrawing your children from extracurricular activities that they enjoy.
Separation or divorce is a tremendous loss for a child and involves lots of changes. Don’t give them more to deal with than necessary.
Here’s another important point about focusing on what’s “fair” and inadvertently not doing what’s best for your kids:
Let’s say that your kids spent Thanksgiving with the other parent, so you think it’s only fair that they spend Christmas with you—even if Christmas lands on the other parent’s scheduled time with them. So you let your ex know your reasoning. Except your ex has already paid for a ski trip for the kids, and is telling you over the phone to get bent. And you’re screaming colorful obscenities back.
Or, say you paid for their school supplies, so you want your ex to pay for their lunch program. Except your ex is arguing with you over some OTHER bill that they had to pay, so now you’re flaming angry and can't help venting to your kids that their mom or dad is a deadbeat.
If you and your ex are constantly keeping score and getting upset with each other over what’s fair and what’s not, your kids will suffer.
Remember, your children are greatly affected by how you manage your relationship with your ex.
Also your children can’t help but feel caught in the middle when the two of you argue non-stop. And children who feel caught in the middle typically don’t talk about how they feel. They may be worried about making you angry, hurting a parent’s feelings, making things worse, or losing your love.
Your anger and frustration with your ex over what’s “fair” can affect how you interact with your children, too. Conflict equals stress and usually lots of it. When you’re stressed, you might be short and impatient with your kids even if it has nothing to do with them. They won’t understand why you’re being cranky, which may leave them wondering, “What did I do wrong?” as most children do. Bottom line, kids will internalize your stress and it will make them feel insecure or anxious.
In summary, what’s best for your kids is the least amount of disruption to their lives as possible, and always ensuring they feel safe and supported to love each parent.
Therefore, it’s critical that you do your best to manage your feelings, be mindful of how you communicate to and about your ex, and stay supportive of a two-home concept for your kids.
It’s not always easy to know what’s right, what’s fair, and what’s the best course of action for yourself AND your kids.
Separation and divorce is a time that’s already filled with intense emotions, lots of stress, and a million things changing at once.
The LAST thing you want to have to do is anything that may harm your children, but you can’t always be sure you’re doing the right thing. Like most parents, you’re probably incredibly worried about how all of this is impacting your kids. And like most parents, there are times when you feel unsure and uncertain. You may really wonder if you’re doing the right thing.
Just like with any dilemma in life, you need advice from an expert—someone to guide you who’s been in the trenches with parents after their separation or divorce and has seen it all and heard it all!
Fortunately, I have that covered for you. I’ve spent the last 20+ years helping parents navigate some of the most pressing and common challenges of co-parenting.
But I can’t possibly help every single parent on a one-on-one basis who needs my guidance. That’s why I’ve partnered with Flourish, so I can extend that help and guidance to as many parents as possible.
Your children deserve nothing but the best you have to offer, and I want to help you discover the way to give that to them.
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You want to do what’s best for your kids, because they are the most important thing in your life. My tips are practical and are designed to help you get on with the business of being a loving and strong presence in your children’s life, no matter how many ups and downs you experience post-split with your ex.
Wishing you and your children the very best,