Co-parenting with your ex can be a challenge no matter how old your child is. Splitting up when the child is very young presents additional challenges because he or she does not really understand what is happening. Also, for a very young child, sticking to a routine is important and this can be difficult to achieve when the child is going back and forth between two homes. In any case, creating a successful parenting plan for your small child is possible if both parents are able to communicate openly and decide to stick to a common routine to keep the child’s days as consistent as possible. Here you can learn more about setting up a parenting plan and custody arrangement for a very young child.
Developing a Routine
Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers thrive on routine. They like to know that after they eat lunch, they will play, and then after they play they will nap, then after they nap they will watch a 30-minute DVD while eating crackers. Of course, the specifics will vary from child to child and they can differ somewhat between the two homes. But for the most part, sticking to a general routine is going to help your very young child. The younger the child, the more important it is to stick to the plan; while a four-year-old can tolerate postponing a snack for 30 minutes if needed, a young baby will become very upset if an expected mealtime is pushed back.
Work with your ex to determine what is reasonable at each household. You might both need to compromise in order to be sure that a routine is feasible for each of you. For example, if you work late and won’t be getting dinner on the table until 6:30 pm, your ex might need to serve his or her own dinner a bit later than their normal 5:00 sit-down time in order to prevent meltdowns when the child is at your house. At the same time, you might need to be more strict about an early bedtime than you’d prefer because your ex needs to get the child down before 8:00 pm in order to get him or her up in the morning on time for daycare.
Another consideration is if a baby is breastfeeding. In this case, there are a few options, ranging from limiting the duration of visitation with the father while increasing the frequency to having the mother pump bottles. Not every baby will tolerate each option, so you will need to compromise and experiment. These are things to talk about and work together on.
Creating Social Opportunities
Babies, toddlers, and preschoolers have varying degrees of social needs. For a young baby, being with his or her caregiver consistently is important. This means that the baby should spend plenty of time with both parents if possible. It also means that having a common caregiver is preferable to having two different care providers. This can mean that instead of each of you choosing a babysitter, you might need to compromise and choose one together.
Toddlers and preschoolers need to interact with other children their age in order to start forming social bonds and to learn social behavior. If your child is at daycare or in preschool, this need will be met there. Another way to meet these needs is to determine which parent can take the child to playgroups, to “parent and me” classes, to story hour at the library, and other age-appropriate activities. If the activity is held on the weekends and you switch off weekends with your ex, try to make it convenient for either parent to be able to take the child on his or her weekend.
Planning for Safety
It is vital to consider baby- and child-proofing as you create your parenting plan. Young children grow and change rapidly, and as they do so, they discover new hazards in the home. Make it part of your parenting plan to agree on certain child-proofing requirements. For example, you should both have outlet covers and store your cleaning chemicals up high. Each of you should have a properly installed car seat in your vehicle and an agreement to use it every time you get in the car.
You can also work together to decide whether there are people or places in either of your lives that are unsafe for your small child. Does one grandparent have a history of child abuse and should not be left alone with the child? Is one parent dating someone who lives in a dangerous area of town? These types of situations can be touchy to talk about but it is important to speak up if you believe your child is being put in an unsafe environment. Contact your National Family Solutions if you are worried about your child’s safety and your ex is not taking your concerns seriously; we can walk you through the options available.
Making Transfers Easier
Young children often have trouble with transitions, and your baby or toddler might cry and get upset during transfers. This can often be avoided if both parents are friendly and amicable and do not let arguments or tension become apparent to the child. Remember that very young children can sense stress and tension. Do what you can to minimize feelings of stress and anger when you are with your ex and your child at the same time.
It is often easier for the parent who has had the child to drop him or her off to the parent who is getting the child next. This way, the parent who is getting the child does not show up and interrupt an activity or a nap. Another option is to have one parent drop off the child at daycare or preschool and for the other parent to pick up the child on transfer days. Make sure the child knows ahead of time who is picking him or her up if they are old enough to understand.
Looking Ahead to the Future
All of the legwork you put into setting up your parenting plan now is a great exercise in planning for the future. Once full-time school, sports practices, and after-school jobs become part of your child’s life in the coming years, you will need to allow the parenting plan to evolve. Having a solid plan in place and cultivating good communication now will be very helpful in the future.