Are you co-parenting with a parent but no longer share a home? Parenting is more complicated than ever when you add in those new logistics. Juggling your child’s needs with yours and your co-parent can be complicated. We’ve pulled together some of the things you’ll want to consider while putting together your parenting schedule.
Before leaping to the details, you’ll need to establish the larger goals you hope your parenting schedule will accomplish. Are you looking for equal time? Are rotating weekends important? How will holidays be handled?
Creating a parenting schedule can be overwhelming. Start by looking at the big picture. From there, you’ll be able to break down your scheduling to more manageable chunks.
The details will come later—there may even be some issues that arise after implementation. You can do your best to anticipate what’s coming, but until you’re navigating it, you won’t know for sure where the problems are in the plan.
Divvying up care can be emotionally fraught. Remember that your end goal is to create a schedule that allows you to be the best parent you can be and also allows your co-parent to be the best parent they can be. At the same time, you want to give your child two positive parental role models.
Don’t let your own feelings get the best of you here. Instead, focus on your child and doing what’s in their best interests.
There are lots of pieces to the puzzle you’re working on. Make sure to keep track of the following components as you’re putting together your family’s parenting schedule.
Parenting schedules aren’t one size fits all. You will find that your parenting schedule needs to be reevaluated and updated as your child ages.
A very young child will need to see both parents frequently. You shouldn’t anticipate a schedule with long gaps between visits will work for your child. This is an important time for building bonds and relationships. Don’t skimp on the frequency of visits here, even if they’re often, but on the shorter side.
You might find a younger child does best with visits inside their primary space. Especially if the family’s separation is new, you may find it’s best to host visits in your child’s home.
Plan on introducing the new space slowly and consistently. It won’t be long before your child views both living spaces as their own. When you’re at that point, you can reevaluate and restructure as needed.
Start with your child’s age when designing your parenting plan. It’s not the only thing you need to consider, though. An extra-sensitive child may need to continue to meet in the dominant living space, even when peers of the same age don’t. Children are individuals and each will adjust at their own pace. Take it easy and work at a pace that’s good for them.
Planning your schedule is about the parents, of course, but it’s also about your child. You want to provide additional stability during the time of separation. Try to plan your parenting schedule so your child’s daily activities aren’t interrupted. Childcare, schooling, and after school activities should be a priority.
When in doubt, go ahead and put yourself in your child’s shoes. Things are likely changing radically for them very quickly. They probably feel like they don’t have control over anything. Allow them to keep what normalcy you can, to help keep them feeling grounded and stable.
Crafting the perfect parenting schedule involves keeping all of their familial ties. Make sure you accommodate grandparents, cousins, siblings (including step-siblings), and other caregivers.
Parenting schedules can be difficult to put together and hard to revisit. Plan on covering every contingency early on, by including provisions for everyone necessary the first time out.
While building your parenting schedule, don’t forget to allow extra time for your child to get from one place to another. Insufficient allotted time will create harried and stressful visitations. Both your child and your co-parent (or you) may feel short-changed in the process. Err on the side of caution when needed, to get the most out of your schedule.
Once you’ve got your child’s needs squarely in focus, it’s time to consider the needs of the adults involved. Work schedules can make things complicated. If there are regular days when your co-parent works late, it makes sense to not schedule visitations on those days.
Some parents may need to travel for work. For the sake of making scheduling easier and knowing ahead what weeks (and months) might look like, see if you can learn about travel plans in advance. The higher-ups may be more accommodating when it comes to scheduling if they realize how unexpected travel impacts your family.
Identifying when your child will be where (and who they’ll be with when) is a huge part of creating a successful parenting schedule. It’s not the only part, though.
While you’re putting together your parenting schedule, don’t forget to address additional parenting responsibilities. Who will be taking your child to after-school activities? Who will be responsible for arranging regular health appointments and who will bring the child?
Don’t forget to factor in your child’s school events as well. Concerts, plays, and sports activities will keep your child busy. They’ll love having parents who are both involved in the process—regardless of their status as a couple.
Expect that this will take a significant amount of time to adjust to. When you’ve worked for a long time as a unit, learning how to pick up duties that weren’t previously yours can be tricky. It can be equally tricky to let go of responsibilities that you’re used to having.
Putting together a parenting schedule can be hard. You may be emotional. It might be difficult to work your way through. All of this is okay. Just like your child may have a tough time adjusting, it may be hard for you as well.
Consider looking into a local support network. Whether it’s a group significantly designed for co-parents or it’s just a friendly ear to help you get through, it’s likely to help. If you’re searching for referrals, your pediatrician should be able to connect you.
Your parenting schedule won’t be a stagnant thing. Your child will grow and situations change—so your parenting schedule should, too. Don’t be afraid to revamp your parenting schedule if it no longer works for you and your family. You can tweak a few small things or do a major overhaul—whatever the situation calls for.
Your child’s safety should always be at the forefront when constructing your parenting plan. If, for any reason, you feel your child is no longer safe with a co-parent or in their living environment, don’t hesitate to insist on an immediate change.
It can be easy to become overwhelmed while putting together your parenting schedule. Take a deep breath and know you aren’t alone.
Follow the guide here, keep your child’s needs at the top of the list and, step-by-step, you’ll create a suitable plan that works for everyone involved.
Ryan is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice. When he isn't spending time with his wife, Cristin, or his two children, he can often be found running around on the tennis court.