The logistics of creating a parenting plan after a divorce can be difficult. Particularly when children begin to get busy with school, friends, and extracurricular activities, it can be a challenge to make sure that he or she is spending roughly equal time with each parent. In addition, babies and teenagers come with their own challenges when creating child visitation schedules.
In some cases, you and your child’s other parent will need to be creative to keep things equitable and meet your child’s social, emotional, and physical needs. Here are some creative options for child visitation schedules that you might consider, depending on your specific circumstances.
Babies and Toddlers
Babies and toddlers are often very sensitive to changes and need predictability in their routines. They often need to be fed, changed, and put to bed at specific times. Babies change and grow very rapidly, which means that their needs change. They go through normal periods of separation anxiety and have growth spurts that require more frequent feeding. When a baby is exclusively or nearly exclusively breastfeeding, he or she cannot spend many hours away from the mother. These factors can make it difficult to have a traditional visitation schedule for babies and toddlers.
What many parents decide to do is wait on overnights away from mom for nursing babies. This allows the baby to nurse before sleep, and it also ensures that the overnight sleeping space is consistent every night. The good news is that babies grow quickly, and by the time most babies are six months old, they can eat at least some solid foods. Also, once breastfeeding is well-established (which can take a few months in some cases), mom might be able to pump a bottle so that dad can feed the baby before bed and in the middle of the night, making an overnight possible.
At this stage, you might need to be creative. Depending on everyone’s work and holiday schedule, maybe dad can visit with the baby several evenings per week for an hour or two. Maybe he could handle bath time, for example. This would just become part of the baby’s routine. Toddlers might have trouble adjusting to overnights away from their primary caregiver, but the other parent could ease into them by handling the bedtime routine and then returning them to the primary caregiver just before they go to sleep.
Once your child is ready to go to school, they are often able to handle switching off parents every few nights or weekly. If both parents live close to the school, then there is not much of an issue; the parent who has the child overnight is responsible for getting them to school the next day. Children will generally have school clothing and supplies at each parent’s house, so it should be relatively seamless.
If one parent lives close to the school, however, and the other parent lives further away, this can make mornings hectic and time-crunched when the far-away parent has overnight custody during the school week. One way to modify this is to have the child spend Sunday through Thursday nights at one parent’s house and Friday and Saturday nights at the other parent’s house. Perhaps this could be switched during the summer vacation and on school breaks, to let the “school days” parent have the child on weekends.
Another option, albeit nontraditional, is to have the children live in the house that is closest to the school, while the parents take turns living there with them. The parents would also have an apartment or a smaller home elsewhere, where they would also take turns living. This is called “bird nesting” and can work if both parents get along well and trust one another to share a common space in the other’s absence.
Teenagers often balk at their custody schedule – not because they do not want to spend time with both parents, but because they are often out and about with their friends after school and on weekends. Add sports, sleepovers, and part-time jobs into the mix, and it might seem as though neither parent is getting much time with their teen. If it is any consolation, it might help divorced parents to remember that married parents of teenagers are going through the same issues.
In general, adolescents spend more time by themselves or with their friends than they do with their parents, and this transcends family dynamics. Still, it is important for teens to have good relationships with both parents whenever possible. Still, it can help to lay out expectations for where your teenager will spend his or her time. Perhaps each parent can claim one weekend day per month as sacred time, being mindful of when the teen already has plans, games, birthday parties, work obligations, and so on.
Or it might be that one parent’s home will naturally become the home base, while visiting the other parent becomes a place where the teen will visit regularly. It can help to be sure that your teen knows that both homes are open to friends coming over (if that is the case). If your teen is spending more time with their other parent, you might consider hosting a sleepover weekend with your teen and his or her friends. Or you might organize a movie marathon or a trip to the lake for fishing with their friends.
Creativity is key for parenting teenagers with or without a shared custody situation involved. Many times, parents are surprised to find that child visitation schedules just don’t work as kids grow and change. Custody and visitation schedules should be fluid enough to allow for this growth while also being firm enough to prevent one parent from not getting adequate time with their child.
Some changes will need to be made based on the needs and best interest of the child, even if you and your ex each wish for more time with the child. Talk to the family law and legal resource advocates at National Family Solutions to learn about how you can get the divorce help and/or parenting schedule that you deserve, no matter how old your child is.