“If parents are divorced or separated, then their children will only do as well in adapting to a new lifestyle as their parents are,” says Sharon Shenker, therapeutic Family and Relationship Coach. “Having a co-parenting plan in place helps these children feel more secure, self-assured and self-confident.”
While a court judgment can be brief and may overestimate the capacity of both parents to cooperate with each other, a co-parenting plan anticipates this and the challenges of everyday life along with the changing needs of children as they grow.
“A co-parenting plan is basically a blueprint outlining the details of how you’re going to be establishing and sustaining your two-parent relationship while living in two different houses,” says Sharon. “Since not living in the same house usually means not communicating every day to decide who is doing what at the moment, this pre-planning is essential for success.”
The basics of a co-parenting plan
Here are Sharon Shenker's top tips for developing a plan that works:
- Determine your list of things to discuss. Each parent should draw up a list of discussion items. This list could include anything from dropping off and picking up from school to doctor’s appointments and special events. And both parents should understand and be familiar with their children’s everyday needs in case the other has to step in.
- Agree on emergency contact info. Agree on who gets contacted and who is the secondary contact should the first parent not be available. You may also have the option to have both parents contacted at the same time. If that’s the case, take it. While that may sound basic, outdated emergency contact info after a divorce or separation is quite common and, obviously, can lead to big concerns for children in need of their parents.
- Set a schedule for daily things. Depending on custody agreements, it’s likely that only one parent handles the routine school pick-up and drop-offs. However, parents shouldn’t ignore out-of-the-ordinary occurrences; for example, weekend sports practice and games, special clubs and birthday parties with friends.
- Plan for holidays. Decide in advance which parent gets the children for the holidays — including summer and March break. Also plan for out-of-town trips for special occasions or if the children will spend time alone with grandparents who live in a different city. Having all of this set out makes it easier when the time actually comes. Holiday details should be in writing in a calendar format and parents should also include time for their children to relax so that they’re not constantly carted around from one place to another.
- Don’t forget about discipline. It’s common for newly divorced or separated couples to continue or start fighting about different parenting styles — and that includes discipline. But it’s important for both parents to be consistent. Agree on how to discipline your children and how that discipline will be maintained when children stay with their other parent. Sharon recommends parents compile a “Rule Book” that outlines agreed punishments and rewards and have a copy in each household to ensure consistency.
- Work with a mediator — particularly if your separation isn’t an amicable one. By working with a mediator or divorce coach, you’ll be better able to come up with a comprehensive plan that suits your family’s needs. Just be sure to work at coming together in a non-threatening and nonjudgmental way and keep the focus on what your children need.
While it’s easy to sometimes blurt out things in anger or frustration, Sharon suggests that you first ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say or do going to benefit or hurt my children?”