SHARED PARENTING

Remember when children from divorced families spent the week with mom (Primary Parent) and then the weekends/summers with dad (Secondary Parent) or other similar arrangements? Well custody arrangements have changed dramatically since 2008. Research shows that children benefit greatly from consistent influence from both their mother and father. Parents, after a separation, now enter into "Shared Parenting." In theory, this minimizes or eliminates the need for child support, child-rearing expenses are shared, all decisions in regards to children are jointly made, time with children is divided equally among parents and holidays are often rotated. Arrangements vary widely and are determined based on the needs of all parties.

Although shared parenting has numerous benefits, there are some surprising "challenges" for parents. The idea of divorce/separating gives the impression that you'll be DONE with your ex forever, but that is not the case if you have children together. In fact, you're going to have to learn to work with your ex in a whole new way. These challenges can be hard to accept, but it's in everyone's best interest (especially the children) to come to terms with these challenges. It will also provide a healthier childhood for your children.

First, when a couple decides to separate, the last thing on their mind is the fact that their ex will eventually remarry or move someone else into their home. Very little thought is given to this detail until... they have to hand their infant to their ex's new partner, their children have to obey the "new rules" of the step-parent or their small child calls this new person "mommy" or "daddy." It is a natural reaction to become enraged and that's when the "real" war begins. Overcoming this challenge requires people to think beyond themselves and put their children first. War between mommy and daddy is never in the best interest of a child. They already have enough to deal with between two families, two homes, two styles of parenting, two sets of house rules, etc. not to mention school, friends, sports and other "normal" childhood issues. 

Despite the fact that they are your children, legally you don't have a say regarding what goes on in your ex's house. Of course the exception would be if your children were in serious physical/emotional danger. Aside from that, your ex can raise the children very differently in his/her own home. As much as it may bother you, try to ignore what doesn't cause serious harm. For the most part, voicing your frustrations over annoyances only leads to an addictive and unhealthy cycle of drama. Try to only voice your concerns regarding necessary issues that arise with the kids (i.e. braces, after-school care, insurance issues, teacher/parent issues, allergy/health concerns, etc.). In other words, pick your battles carefully.

In shared parenting, you're going to be working/communicating a lot with your ex regarding important decisions for your children; sometimes even more than you did when you were married or living together. Both parents have to discuss AND AGREE on what daycare/school the children attend, dental/doctor details (For example the pediatrician may not be able to schedule the kids school physicals on your week, which means you have to discuss/arrange for your ex to take them on his/her week, etc.), what clubs/extra curricular activities they join (i.e. practice may not always fall on the nights you have your child), etc. This is the second largest complaint about shared parenting. If you think you can't get along with your spouse/partner while your married/living together, wait till after... I would dare say that you'll have to work with your ex regarding the children even more after the separation.

Don't let this challenge destroy your life or your future relationships. I recommend to my clients that they avoid telephone conversations. Telephone conversations tend to get explosive and become a constant screaming match. Non-emergency issues/details can be handled through email. Try to be polite despite what you would like to say. There is no reason to stay on the drama train that exists while separating/divorcing. Your ex already knows you hate him or her and there is no need for a daily reminder. If an emergency or an issue that is more time sensitive arises (i.e. running late to pick up kids) send a text message.

Lastly, shared parenting tends to make it harder for people to move on with their lives emotionally. Typically, parents live within the same area for school/daycare purposes. They see/talk to each other frequently at pickups/drop offs and hear lots of stories from their kids about mom's house or dad's house. Although you may not want to hear stories about your children at your ex's house, this should not be discouraged. Your child's life and experiences with your ex is one-half of their childhood. If they can't share half of their life with you, than they'll learn to become private and secretive. The last thing you want when your kids reach the teenage years, is for them to feel like they can't talk to you or share their life. Aside from conversations with your kids, try not to talk or think about your ex. If you wake up in the morning thinking about how much you hate your ex, stay aggravated and fight with him/her all day, call to yell at them on the way home from work and then complain about them all evening to a friend/partner/family member, than you might as well still be married to them. By making your ex a part of daily thoughts and conversations (even if it's in a negative context), you keep him/her in your life. You might as well still be together. Take the necessary steps to move on with your life. Stop talking about them! Stop calling them! Stop texting them unless it's absolutely necessary. You're separated and it's time to step off the "drama train."

Healthy separations don't occur overnight. Things get ugly during the separation/divorce and it's easy to stay annoyed in shared parenting arrangements. Develop necessary skills to get along from two different homes. Work together when necessary and make it a point to avoid thinking about them otherwise. Move on and give your kids the best childhood possible. Before you know it, your children will be grown and the most important thing they'll take with them is their childhood memories and the love of both their mother and father.

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