If you're one of those parents sharing custody time, you know how hard it can be.
Juggling their schedules and co-parenting during the school year... Scheduling time with loved ones and friends during "your" custody time... Figuring out holidays and vacations... Feeling like you're missing out on your kids whenever they're gone...
It's difficult not to feel like you're doing something wrong when you're absent from your kids' lives while your ex has his or her parenting time.
It sometimes feels like you've gone rogue, but you haven't. It's just how life is post-divorce.
I used to share custody time 50/50, and so it felt like every second was beyond precious. If that's your situation, rest assured: even if you're "absent" from the picture 50% of the time, you've got an intense 50% to make every minute count with your kids. The reality is that, if you use your time wisely, they'll have a good connection with you no matter what.
Of course, being there as much as possible does matter, but when you're sharing time with the other parent, don't despair. Instead, make the minutes count:
Schedule Relationship Time Appropriately.
Okay, here goes. If your kids don't know your significant other yet because you're not ready to introduce the person, schedule dates on times you don't have the littles as much as is reasonably possible. Or, schedule dates after the kids are asleep. Make the minutes matter by focusing on them as much as possible.
If your kids do know your partner, consider doing these things:
- In addition to time with the kids and your partner, try spending time alone with them without the partner—even if the person is a step-parent—now and then. Getting that one-on-one time with any parent, married or divorced, is great for kids.
- Ask them on occasion if they want the partner to come along or stay behind. This doesn't mean the kids decide your relationship—it just means that, now and then, you give kids the option to express their feelings. Really, you should try to give the kids every chance to get to know a new partner and adjust as much as possible. Just don't forget to ask about how they're feeling.
Designate a Hobby With Them.
Pick something, whether it's a sport, art or another hobby that just you do with them. Even if a new partner is along for the ride, pick a hobby that is special for the kids to do with you, or you and your partner. This will be a great way of bonding together.
Speak to Your Boss.
Some bosses won't give a hoot about your life. But if you have a boss that's decent, try to schedule later work hours during the times you don't have the kids. This way, maybe you can grab an extra hour or two during the week when you do have them. Of course, not all of us have this privilege, but if you do, use it wisely.
Schedule Appointments Around Them.
When I did 50/50 custody, I used to schedule my appointments as much as possible during the times I didn't have my daughter. It's harder now, but back then, it meant I could take her to the park rather than dragging her to the dentist with me. Even if you save an extra hour here and there to be with the kids, it adds up. Think of it as making a deposit in their accounts—their hearts, that is.
Set Aside the Phone.
This is a hard one for most parents to do, but if you can, set aside the phone and social media so you can focus on your kid. Your child misses you, and that extra attention during the time you do have to spend together will help ease the pain for both of you.
Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine.
Bedtime routines are important for kids and adults. Creating a unique bedtime routine that involves putting away the work and phones—and instead only focusing on the family—will really help everyone's well being. Plus, the evening time is family time, so let it be special.
Moments Matter—Not Gifts.
Many of us fall prey to the Disney Land Dad or Guilty Mom gift nonsense after divorce. Quit it! No vacation or treasure trove of toys will make up for the quality interactions you have with your kids. Save your money. Play with them. Get on their level. Learn their interests. Set aside your chores and color. Put away the phone and paint. Leave work an extra fifteen minutes early and go home to throw the ball around. Vacations and toys are nice, but knowing their parents love them is far more important to kids than Disney World, Game Stop or McDonald's. Don't forget it!
And, always keep in communication with your kids when they're with the other parent. Yes, some parents are cruel and will cut, or limit, the time the other parent can interact with their kids, but most won't. FaceTime. Skype. Handwritten cards to the other address. Emails. Goofy texts. Just do it!
Written by Laura Lifshitz
Laura Lifshitz is a pint-sized, battery-operated, writer, comedienne, and single mother. Laura will work for chocolate. The former MTV personality and Columbia University graduate is currently writing about divorce, sex, women's issues, fitness, parenting, marriage and more for the New York Times, DivorceForce, Women's Health, Redbook, Working Mother, Pop Sugar, Your Tango and numerous other sites. Her own website is FromMTVToMommy.com.