How to Succeed at Raising Your Kids Together, Apart

In more than 12 years of working in family law, I’ve worked with hundreds (thousands?) of individuals and couples who have decided to end their marriage. A significant portion of those marriages involved children. Some of those marriages ended amicably, many did not. But, no matter how the marriage ended, you’re still going to have something in common for the rest of your lives together: your love for your kids.

Here are a few tips to keep up your sleeve as you navigate your next chapter with your ex, while keeping your kids the #1 focus:

Plan Holidays Early

“Pay special attention to maintaining traditions. During the time you and your ex raised your children together, you probably created some family traditions together, too. Maintaining holiday traditions like Santa arriving Christmas Eve, can help reinforce some normalcy for kids and make them feel more secure.” – Christine Powers-Leatherberry, Connatser Family Law

If you haven’t started planning the 2017 holidays with your ex, start now. If you and your ex are unable to come to agreement, you may need the court’s assistance – and it can take 4-10 weeks to get a hearing.

To get started, ask yourself these questions:

  • During winter break, is it important to you that the kids spend equal time with both parents?
  • Is Thanksgiving more important to you than Christmas?
  • What time do Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or other festivities typically begin for your family and for your ex’s family? Does timing allow for your child to be part of both families’ celebrations?
  • What kind of travel time is required to get to your family’s or your ex’s for the holidays? If travel time means that your child(ren) can’t spend time with both families, consider alternating every other year to allow your child(ren) to be with both families.

And remember: if you already have a court order or parenting plan in place: review it annually. Time can change things a lot. As your children get older, they can spend longer periods of time away from each parent. Your conflict sometimes lessens, and holidays may have become easier for you and your ex to navigate.

Maintain a Shared Calendar

“As a divorce lawyer, and having to currently co-parent with an ex, I can tell you that communication should be on autopilot. Yes and no by text are perfect ways to communicate. There should be no emotion in the response and stick to plain facts. Try to build mechanisms so you have to communicate as little as possible. For example, use Google Calendar to notify one another of events, and have communication from the schools send directly to both parents.” – Amy Saunders, Esq., Legal Solutions

As hard as it may be for you, for the good of your kids, it is important that you and your ex maintain regular communication about their schedule.

  • Google Calendar: It’s free, and by sharing a calendar, you and your ex can both make additions or edits. The Google calendar can sync with your phone, and thus your other calendars – making it easy to schedule custody sharing around everything else in your life.  
  • Our Family Wizard: This app lets you create a family calendar, and it offers a message board. All communication through this app is recorded. So, if there’s ever an issue, this app will have a complete record of calendar dates and messages between you and your ex. Bonus: older kids can download the app to access the family calendar helping them stay informed of their own schedules.

Keep Kids in the Loop

“My recommendation is to get past the anger of the separation and remember that you were entrusted with one of the greatest responsibilities in this universe – to raise mentally and emotionally stable, productive young people who are capable of making positive contributions to society. An angry and confused child is a possible starting point, but it definitely doesn’t have to continue that way.” – Dr. LaFarra Young-Gaylor of Young Pathology PLLC

No matter how young or how old your child is, keeping them in the loop about their own schedule is key to making them feel part of this, and not like an object shuttled from home to home.

  • Keep a visual. Consider keeping a visible custody calendar – a whiteboard or a regular calendar – visible in your home that changes by child’s age: photos or drawings of mom or dad for a younger child and text indicating custody schedules and other life events (soccer practice, trips to Grandma’s, etc.) for older children.
  • Talk, talk, talk. Especially for younger children, repetition of plans for the week is important. When the time comes for custody transfer, having talked about it frequently ahead of time will help your child remain calm and confident during each transition.
  • Make them part of the plan. The night before custody transition, talk with your child about the fun things they plan to do at Mom’s or Dad’s, to reinforce the mindset that they’re about to have a different kind of fun. Help them pack a bag of clothes, toys or other items, like a favorite game or this week’s latest artwork, to share with their other parent.

In the end, remember that the #1 rule of co-parenting is that it’s about the kids, not about you. It can be extremely hard, but the more you can separate your disagreements with your ex from the way you both co-parent your child, the easier it will be for your child to continue feeling loved by both parents, equally.

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