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The behavior of parents has a great influence on the emotional adjustment of their children. This is equally true after a divorce. The following guidelines are helpful in achieving meaningful continuing contact with both parents.
These guidelines will not answer every problem that will arise, nor will they solve all questions raised, but if they assist in a time of crisis and stress, then they are useful and are worthy of your attention. If you and your spouse are having difficulties with any of these guidelines there are helpful professionals and places to help you. You can development a new way of working together.
- Remember to put your children’s welfare first. Try to see that their emotional needs are met and that they have an opportunity to develop as normally as possible under the circumstances.
- Contact, frequent and continuing, with both parents, normally and under the proper circumstances, is needed and helpful to your children’s development and future welfare.
- Contacts should be pleasant, not only for the children but for both parents. Contacts should help your children maintain a positive relationship with both parents.
- Responsible time as well as recreational time should be scheduled with both parents. Plan grocery shopping, laundry, and other chores to do with the children while they are having contact. Give them a list as well. Go to free recreational activities: the library, the park, the beach.
- Create rituals and memories. Start a shell collection. Learn the computer together. Assure the child that the future includes both parents with the child.
- The contacts should not take place only in the children’s home. Put together a schedule and let the child know what it is. Keep a calendar at each home and highlight the calendar with different colors for each parent’s time with the child.
- The question is often asked, “Should I take the children to the girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s house?” Parent and child contacts should be a time for the parent and the children to be with each other, to enjoy each other and to maintain positive, steady and strong relationships. Having other people participate may dilute the parent-child experience and cause stress and division of loyalties to the child, especially during the divorce. Also, it may appear to the children that the parent does not care enough to provide undivided attention during contact. Maintain the best interest of the children as the primary criterion for your actions and conduct.
- Keep your contact schedule and inform the other parent, in advance, when you cannot keep to the schedule. Make no or few changes; adjust everything else to be there and be on time. Failure to keep a contact without notifying the other parent may be construed by the children as rejection.
- The parents may need to re-evaluate and adjust the contact schedule from time to time, according to your children’s age, health and interest. Plan on meeting after certain set periods of time to reconsider the schedule.
- Frequently a parent asks, “Why should I have contact?” He or she is hurt, as revealed by the comments, “I am no longer needed; the other spouse has my home and my children.” Contact is for the children. The child needs a relationship and personal contact with a mother and a father, and for that reason it should be a meaningful one for both the parent and the children. Even though the parents have not been able to get along, the children still need both parents if they are to grow up in a normal way.
- Often a father questions where he will take the children on the contacts and what he should plan in the way of amusement for them, particularly if the children are young. Activities may add to the pleasure of the visit but most important of all is the father’s time with the children. A father’s time is more important than whatever material thing he may give them. Take a parent effectiveness course. Join a father’s support group.
- The contact should not be used to check on the other party. The children should not be used as little spies. Often in children’s perception the parents hate each other and they will feel uncomfortable at the time of the contact. In their minds, if they do anything to please the parent, he or she may invite outright rejection by the other parent. They already lost one parent in their minds and are fearful of losing the other. For this reason, parents should show mutual respect for each other.
- The children may be left with many problems following the contacts and both parents should make every effort to discuss them and to agree on ways to deal with them.
- Both parents should strive for agreement in decisions pertaining to the children, especially discipline, so that one parent is not undermining the other parent’s efforts.
- The use of common sense in the granting and exercising of contact rights is required by all parties concerned. Also try to follow the long established golden rule “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.”
- Keep in mind that your children’s future attitude, outlook and emotional development are important and uncomplicated, and as normal a visitation as possible under the circumstances is necessary. Wherever and to the extent possible, the children should know and have the love of and the proper guidance of both parents.
- Be courteous to the other parent at the time of pick-up and delivery of the child. Alternate this or pick a neutral location for exchange. Some parents exchange at the supermarket while both are shopping. This gives the child some time when the parents are in one place at one time and can go from one to another during this time. Allow the child one thing to buy or give the child a list of items to find and make this time a game.