After separation one of the first things parents often tackle is their parenting schedule, meaning, how much time will the kids spend with each parent. When asked why they have set up a schedule in a particular way parents often talk about the kids’ activities, work schedules and school schedules. Of course, these are important issues that need to be taken into account. But even more important considerations are the developmental stage of your child and their temperament and personality.
So let’s walk through the different ages and stages and chat about things to consider when creating your parenting schedule.
Infants & Toddlers
At this age your child is completely dependent on you both physically and emotionally. Attachment to each parent is crucial. For this reason, you will want to set up a schedule where your child sees each parent on a frequent basis. It is also important for you, as a new parent, because this is a time where you are learning all about your child. You’re learning about their cues, what their different cries mean and how to comfort them. It is a time where parents are building their confidence. So it is important that each parent spends time with their child. You will get conflicting information about whether overnights are recommended. Overnights can provide a special time for a parent to bond and learn. It also gives the other parent time to catch up on sleep! If you are considering overnights you’ll need to figure out feeding schedules and other routines and how to manage them.
At this age your child is very ego-centric. They feel they are in control of everything that happens and for this reason they also feel like they are the cause of everything that happens. They are not emotionally independent at this age and need you to be there for them to help them navigate the “why” of everything. They need consistency and structure to feel safe and secure. This doesn’t mean everything needs to be identical at each home. It means that the child knows what to expect from each home environment. At this age you still want to be looking at fairly frequent transitions. As an example you may want to look at a 2-2-3 schedule. In this schedule a child spends 2 nights with one parent, then 2 nights with the other and then back to the first parent for 3 nights and repeat! With this schedule the child spends every other weekend with each parent.
School age kids are at risk of feeling the most impact from divorce in the long term. However, what studies show is that it is not the divorce itself that causes trauma, but rather, ongoing conflict can cause trauma they carry with them into adulthood. It is imperative that you, as parents, are encouraging a healthy relationship with the other parent. This means no negative talk, no sabotaging visits and providing ample opportunity to communicate with the other parent even if the child is with you. At this age kids can manage longer times between transitions as long as they can communicate or see the other parent when they need to. At this age you might want to consider a 2-2-5-5 schedule. With this schedule there are less transitions and your child gets to spend every other weekend with each parent.
By this age your child is becoming more independent. Their friends and the world outside their family is becoming more and more important to them. However, emotional support and guidance is still crucial. As they develop cognitively they are in a stage where they often see the world as black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. They struggle to understand the grey areas. They may be very emotional. Anger or anxiety can surface if they feel torn between parents and try to maintain a good relationship with each of them. At this age maintaining a
2-2-5-5 schedule can still be beneficial. In this way both parents are connecting with school and activities while also getting to spend down time on the weekend.
Despite a growing independence and developing an identify separate from their family, the teen years can be tumultuous and emotional. As a parent you walk the fine line between interfering and being supportive. This is an age where your child can express their views about the parenting schedule. It is important for them to feel heard and to feel like their needs and wants are being taken into consideration. If you have younger children this can start to be a time where your teen is moving on a different schedule than their siblings. They may not want to move back and forth as often. They may prefer to have more of their stuff at home than the other. As much as you can support them and remain connected while still encouraging their independence and listening to their opinions.
Creating your parenting schedule can be difficult and it may mean sacrifice on your part. But if you can hold the idea of “what is best for my child?” at the forefront of all of your decisions that is the best you can do. Your children are the most vulnerable and have the least amount of control through separation and rebuilding a new version of your family and it’s important to honour them throughout the process.