Let’s be as honest and as straight forward as possible. Shared custody is like having your heart ripped out of your chest again, and again, and again. Sometimes, like the image above, it can feel like a real tug of war and no one has a good time with this. Not you, not your former partner and certainly not your kid(s), but for many of us blended families this is now our reality. You are a parent and your responsibility is ensuring that the experience your children have is as smooth as possible.
In my family sometimes two kids are coming as two head out. Believe me that can get all kinds of complicated. I must admit though, times when all four kids are out of the house… well… that’s another post for another time, maybe even another more scandalous blog. We’re running on the assumption that you’ve gotten past the agreement/mediation/court phase and the real question for today is:
How do you and your family survive this perpetual gut wrenching experience?
Sounds simple right? I mean it doesn’t take a genius to suggest being civil and you probably already thought of that. If not don’t beat yourself up about it because, especially in the early stages post breakup, being civil is sometimes the last thing you’ll want to be. However, successful coparenting will depend on your ability to swallow your pride sometimes.
If you must, force yourself to be civil, even kind if you can, whenever you interact with your former partner. Especially in front of the children. Your romantic relationship may be over, but your life long relationship is just beginning and the quicker you move from contentious to cooperative the better… trust me on this one.
Have a Plan but be Flexible
I’m tempted to insert a cliche phrase here, but I’ll resist. In truth you’ll need several plans to make this experience as successful as such an experience can be. The obvious is that you need to have a plan about where, when and how you will exchange custody of the children. Many people choose neutral ground for the exchanges. With time you may become comfortable with door to door exchanges, but if you’re not there yet don’t worry about that at all. That’s perfectly normal, just find the nearest Starbucks, ‘cause let’s face it those are everywhere, and set a time to meet and exchange custody. Have a hot chocolate while you wait… not the coffee cause you don’t want to be edgy. Be sure you’ve been clear well in advance about any particular items that need to accompany the kids as well. You don’t need a missing, favorite teddy bear to be the spark of a less than civil moment.
Remember the first tip… well that’s not going to happen without a plan either. You’ve got to have an idea of how you’ll deal with a coparenting situation that’s less than pleasing. Have a strategy to calm your nerves and keep level headed so that you can follow tip number one. That plan could be as simple as not getting into a conversation with your former spouse at the exchange. Just be sure that you have a few lined up. I found that my biggest challenge was dealing with the emotions of my kids at the exchange. There’s no way to totally prepare for that though… if you find one let me know.
Whatever your exchange and emotional stability plans look like, be a little flexible with them. By no means am I suggesting that you should be a door mat. What I am suggesting, however, is that bending a little can save you big head and heartaches. Changing the time or location at last minute may seem like a hassle, but if you can accommodate without putting yourself out too much just do it.
Don’t Over Do It
Ok the first two tips were mostly all about the exchange and how to cope in that moment. These next three are more about the overall experience and what I find works for me in my coparenting arrangement. Keep is simple has worked well for me. Like most parents I love my kids and I would do almost anything for them. I also realize that I need to teach them gratitude, respect and thoughtfulness among other things. You cannot buy your way to those lessons so put your wallet away.
There are no large parties when the kids come back home. We may cook a favorite meal or something like that, but there is no lavish expenditure upon arrival. This is their home and they are welcomed back when they come, but it’s a simple, thoughtful, caring welcome and you don’t need money for that. The same goes for birthdays and other celebrations. Don’t be afraid to give gifts and birthday parties, but don’t try to be something you’re not. In the end your child just wants to spend time with you not your money or the things that it can buy. So keep it simple and don’t over do it.
Give Them Territory
If your kids are like mine they are shifting between homes regularly. This can be a tricky one for parents and children. Giving territory is something I find really helps the kids to settle quickly. Even when I was still single and had a very small apartment my kids had their designated space. They could take what they wanted to their other home and leave what they wanted at this one. They knew where their space was and that made our little apartment feel like home to them. Ultimately that is what you want. You want them to feel safe and comfortable when they are with you. That allows the most important thing to happen, quality time.
Finally, this is probably one of the more important functions you will need to remember. You don’t want to be the guy that your kids can’t depend on. That only leads down a road of anger and resentment. The result is a damaged relationship that will require a lot of work to repair. So let’s not even open that door, be a dependable dad. Which takes us back to don’t over do it. Why? Because you don’t want to commit to anything that you won’t be able to follow through with. Being dependable extends to your time, your money, and also how you discipline. You need to be consistent and dependable in all of these areas, and more.
There are certainly many other things to consider when you are involved in a coparenting relationship, but remembering these five tips will help to get you onto the right foot when entering the mire of shared custody. Don’t get discouraged when things don’t go your way. Be there for your kids and in the end it will be worth it. I promise that there’ll also be plenty of in-betweens to appreciate and enjoy too.