With primary custody comes the dilemma of keeping the parent living outside the home involved in the children's lives. The parent who lives outside the home may be battling feelings of loneliness. She may wonder how to remain a part of her child's life without day to day visits. This can be further complicated if miles lie between a parent and her child.
Parents who have a joint custody arrangement face the challenge of creating balance and similar rules between two households. They attempt this while trying to maintain a strong sense of security in both homes.
Unfortunately, there are no written guidelines to make these arrangements easier. Following are some ideas to help you. Not all of them will be applicable to your family form. Try the ideas that make the most sense for you.
Sole Custody - Keeping The Other Parent Involved
It is a difficult task to not let your feelings for your ex influence his visiting arrangements. Many times a parent is angry, hurt and resentful. Visitation can become a means of getting back at your ex-partner. Sometimes this is a conscious choice, but most often it occurs subconsciously.
Your feelings aren't necessarily your child's. Your child has the right to form his own decisions and the right to see and love both of his parents. You can help by encouraging the other parent to remain in your child's life. Doing this isn't easy. It requires you to put your feelings aside and to focus on your child's needs.
Your encouragement is important. The non-custodial parent may be feeling cast aside, unneeded or unimportant. These feelings may cause him to not pursue a relationship with his children. Instead of waiting on him, try to encourage his visitation. Remember, you are focusing on your children now.
Ways to promote the non-custody parent/child relationship
Don't ridicule. Children will often keep different hours or eat different things when away for a weekend. Don't ridicule the other parent because their style of parenting is different. Instead, bite your tongue. Will staying up a couple of hours late on a weekend night do any permanent damage? No. If you ridicule the other parent, she may feel she is parenting "wrong" and eventually visits may begin to decrease.
Try being flexible. If visits are rare, try to be a little more flexible in your visitation schedule to encourage increased visiting.
Discuss issues together. If your child is facing a problem in school, social life, or at home, let the other parent know. Think it through together. The other parent will be pleased to know that you value his opinion in parenting issues.
Keep the other parent posted. Send copies of report cards, drawings and graded papers on a regular basis. Kids often won't share all these things if they have limited time with the other parent. It is up to you to keep the other parent informed. Purchase a dozen or so 9x12 envelopes and a book of stamps. Let your child write the parent's address on the envelope and decorate them with stickers or crayons. Then have her place items from school or home in the envelope and mail one envelope a week. It may help to keep a pad of post-it-notes near the envelope for writing quick messages. This gives your child a way to feel connected with the other parent throughout the week.
Say thanks. Even if the kids are a little late getting home, or didn't take a full nap... say thank you.
The Non-Custodial Parent
There may be a sense of relief when leaving a bad relationship. That sense of relief can quickly be replaced by guilt, frustration or anger as you try to understand your role in your child's life.
Your role remains the same as a mother or father. You still need to provide the same guidance and love. The only difference- you will not be doing it in person each day- but on a visitation basis. Don't underestimate your importance to your children. Though you are not living with them day to day, they need you as much as always.
Here are some ideas for staying actively involved in your child's life:
Long Distance Parenting
Long distance parenting can work successfully with a little effort from both parents. Here are some ideas to try....
(For more ideas on long distance parenting consult Long Distance Parenting by Miriam Galper Cohen, 1989, NAL/Signet.)
Vicki Lansky reports in her Divorce Book For Parents that joint custody is becoming a more common form of parenting. In 1980 only three states accepted joint custody. Now it's the presumption or preference in every state-- 38 states through legislation and the other through Supreme Court case precedent or attorney general rulings. In a study of New York metropolitan parents after a year of shared custody, 80 percent said they would recommend it, even though only 7 percent reported no problems with the arrangement.
Joint custody seems to work best with older children who can handle moving between homes. Younger children need a sense of security which can be hard to create in a joint custody arrangement. The starting point is to create open communication between both parents.
For more ideas on Joint Custody refer to: Joint Custody and Co-Parenting: Sharing Your Child Equal by Miram Galper Cohen (1991, Running Press.)