Many parents come to mediation wanting a 50/50 parenting schedule. That usually means that both parents are concerned about maintaining a strong relationship with the children once Mom and Dad separate. Shared parenting is usually a positive experience when the parents cooperate to create a workable plan that respects the bond between both parents and each child.
In most families, the challenge becomes how to accomplish a 50/50 schedule. Careful thought is required in developing a plan. It is more than dividing the days of the week. Considerations include: Mom’s and Dad’s work or school schedule, the children’s activities, childcare arrangements and physical distance between homes and the children’s school. A good starting point is having a discussion about the current family schedule. Each family is unique and the negotiation is usually more productive when it centers on the logistics of a realistic schedule in light of work schedules and the children’s activities and needs. It is also helpful to consider the children’s changing needs as they mature. That may mean incorporating terms to the agreement about how future adjustments to the schedule will be addressed. As children grow their views about the schedule may change and while parents remain the decision-makers, the older child’s views should be taken into consideration.
Communication is the key to effective co-parenting. The effectiveness of the communication directly impacts the children’s view of the new family structure. After a discussion about how the family currently functions, the parents need to discuss how they can work together moving forward. Each parent’s residence should be considered a home for the children and the children should participate in setting up the new home (or homes). This discussion includes: how the week and holidays will be shared, pick-up and drop-off times (the transition between homes), rules in each home and how the parents and children will communicate when the children are in the other parents home.
The 2 homes: While economics sometimes dictate that one home will be smaller, that home can and should still be considered a home. The language used when referencing each home should be carefully considered if there is in fact going to be 2 equal homes. The children should have a quiet area in each home for homework and furnishings and personal belongings that make them feel that each home is theirs.
The rules: Parenting styles often differ and the rules in each house may also differ. Parents need to have an open conversation about how the rules in each house will be addressed and, if the rules differ, how the parents will address those differences. For example, one parent may restrict internet/phone use more than the other or the parents may have different philosophies about household chores.
Communication: The family schedule should be accessible to all members of the family. As children get older, they can take more responsibility for communication about their activities (e.g. enter their own events or important dates on the family calendar). There are various online programs that facilitate scheduling for the family.
Finally, when parents show respect for each other it establishes a more positive framework for family matters that arise. Using a thoughtful unified approach towards parenting in 2 homes helps the children adjust to the restructured family in a more healthy way.