7 Things Not to Overlook in Your Co-Parenting Plan
You’re working on your co-parenting plan or agreement and being mindful to get just the right amount of detail in there. You know that what is agreed now will likely need to be changed in the future as circumstances change for you and your children. I am picking that you are probably concerned to work out which parent your children are with and when. You will likely be thinking about how school holidays will work between you and, for that matter, you may be trying to agree on what school your child attend.
In among all the ‘big ticket’ parenting matters to include in your parenting plan, here are 7 items I see parents often overlook. I am not suggesting these all need to be covered off in your plan but, if an issue sings out as important to you, you should explore it further for inclusion in your co-parenting plan.
Your children’s differences – Co-parenting arrangements often treat multiple children as a single unit, moving between parents’ homes and participating in the care arrangements together, in the same way. For many children this will work just fine. Such arrangements also make for practical simplicity. However, are you children at different ages and stages? Do they have different interests or needs? If so, they may well need different things from the co-parenting arrangements. Perhaps your children would benefit from having care arrangements that see them not all moving as a bunch but rather, have more bespoke arrangements that are tailored for each individual child?
1:1 time – Closely related to the idea of individual arrangements for children is giving consideration to each child having the opportunity for valuable one to one time with each parent. Even in situations where their children move together between homes, some of my clients have opted to build in time for each child to have one to one time with his or her parents. For example, the co-parenting plan may include a parent participating in a sporting activity with one child each week and taking the other child out on their own for a hot chocolate and walk together.
Gifts – How will gifts for your children be managed? What about gifts the children give each of you? You may want to ensure you are on the same page about gifts if any of the following describe your co-parenting situation:
there are differences in the financial resources you each have and one parent isn’t able to “match” the other in terms of the amount spent on gifts for their children. This situation can lead to inequity when it comes to how the children view each parent. It can create resentment in the co-parenting relationship if one parent is left feeling “less than” or that they are in a competition they have no chance of winning.
you have certain beliefs or values around parenting that mean you favour the gifting of experiences, rather than material items, or children learning to save for that expensive gaming console, Lego or car that they want.
as much as possible, you want to present for your children as united and hence would like to see joint gift giving undertaken.
you are concerned to instil in your children values around generosity and thinking of others, not merely received. You may view supporting and assisting your children to buy a small gift for their other parent as part of this.
Tooth Fairy – Every so often I meet parents who want to be on the same page about how tooth fairy, Santa Claus and Easter bunny are going to still visit when their children were moving between their homes. Sometimes it is important to parents that they are able to share in the planning of such traditions and share in their children’s excitement at these times. For some parents, they simply want to be agreed about who will organise such visits so that their child doesn’t miss out because each parent thought the other was attending to the necessary arrangements. Sorting out how these special visits can still happen and the expectations on each parent can ensure the traditions your children enjoy can continue to be enjoyed, unmarred by your separation.
Introduction of New Partners – even if a new relationship is the furthest thing from your mind, this is one of those future events you can be pretty sure will come up so it pays to turn your minds to it. How will your children be introduced to new partners and when? How long is a reasonable time to wait for a new partner to meet your children? What expectations will you both agree to about advising each other of new relationships and any intended introductions?
Having a plan in place about new partners and following through on it, is a lot less emotionally disruptive than having a child returning to your care, gushing about “daddy’s new friend” who you knew nothing about. It also means you can be best prepared to support your child with this new development, rather than floundering as you reel around trying to process the information yourself.
Social Media – what social media presence should your children have? This may encompass what images of your children should be posted online and the security settings to be used around those. For older children, you may want to consider what social media accounts they may have and the boundaries you both agree should be in place for the operation of those accounts. If they are old enough to express a view, what views do your children have about you sharing images of them online or about their use of social media and how can you both respect those?
How will you Resolve Things if they Go Off Track? Have a plan for if things don’t go to plan. New issues will arise, disagreements may happen. The issue may not be between you both as parents – what are each going to do if a child calls you from the other parent’s home, upset because that parent has disciplined them or put a boundary or consequence in place around troublesome behaviour? When faced with the stress of such times, it can be helpful to have a plan in advance for how to address the situation in order to ensure things don’t escalate or become inflamed unnecessarily and to keep your co-parenting relationship on track.
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