We have had at least one generation of children grow up with the “standard visitation” regimen of living with Mom and spending “every other weekend” with Dad. Children did not like it, still don’t like it, and have suffered under this routine. What do children say when asked about this routine, which includes sharing holidays, travelling distances, splitting summers, and all the rest? Many of them are young adults now and they are not shy about their opinions:
1) They hate travelling on holidays. Too often, half of Christmas Day is spent with one parent and half with the other – resulting in children, not their parents, hoofing it from one house to the other while everyone else is just settling this.
2) They hate inflexibility. Special events happen in everyone’s life. To be forced to consult a rigid calendar before knowing if you can go to your new cousin’s christening, or your best friend’s championship baseball game, or your grandmother’s birthday party – the list goes on and on – ranks high with offspring as requirements they see as simply mean.
3) They hate parents who argue at visitation exchanges, AND parents who insist upon travelling to an exchange point (such as the local police station or WalMart), AND parents who turn visitation exchanges into opportunities to exchange doctor’s bills and the like. The tension has resulting ill effects which linger for years.
4) They hate to not have a say in choosing their vacation plans, which to them means in choosing their friends and favorite activities. This is closely tied to the inflexibility mentioned in number 2.
SO, how can you avoid these problems, ALL OF WHICH will cause lasting, long-term injury to the parent-child relationship and will spread down to the next generation (ie., your grandchildren!).
Here are some suggestions:
a) Don’t insist that special days be divided in half. Christmas is a prime example. Parents need to be prepared for the establishment of new rituals for their changed family group. Successful parents I have seen agree to alternate Christmas Day and to pick up their children on the day AFTER Christmas. They then initiate special new traditions that have little to do with what used to happen in the former marriage. Some ideas I have seen that work well: take your children someplace special and celebrate your holidays in a different spot: not necessarily the new apartment or new home, but with a special relative, or a trip to Mexico, or a fishing trip. Christmas trees can sprout anywhere and new surroundings may avoid sad reminders.
6) Be flexible! Your children have a whole set of relatives on their other parent’s side. Allow your children to be loved by as many people as possible; you do not lose when you do that. Sharing your children for special events which do not necessarily involve you does not cut down on their love for you. In fact, it will enhance their love and respect for you as well as model reasonable behavior for them.
7) Never, ever, ever, have an argument with your former spouse in front of your children or anywhere that they can (or might) hear you. Don’t allow other people to argue in your place (such as your mother, your brother, your neighbors, etc.). If you argue in front of your children, they will be put in the awful position of “choosing” a safer parent and clinging to that environment. If you are the one who always seeks the argument, you lose. Always.
8) Don’t exchange bills, mail, notes, or anything else at visitation exchanges. Use the mail, email, phone, or otherwise communicate outside of the presence of the children. EVEN WORSE, don’t put these things in your children’s backpacks or bags, thereby enlisting the children as your little messengers.
9) Consider your children’s interests and their friends and their schedules as you make plans for special event times. You should, of course, actually put yourself in a position to actually know who your children’s friends are. You should also be regularly attending their special events and will thereby learn who their friends are (and their friends’ parents). These people, already important to your own children, can help ground you in your child’s life.
Lastly, and not responsive to any of the above items, please don’t say bad things about your former spouse in front of your children or anywhere that they could possibly overhear you. Don’t allow others to engage in this behavior – tell other adults to stop, and if they will not, remove your children from their presence. Your children will suffer greatly if you speak ill of their other parent, and they will never forget it. One day, who knows when, they will turn on you for that behavior.
Patricia O. DeTreville has been practicing exclusively in the South Carolina Family Courts for over 25 years. Please contact her at 843-571-0537 or email@example.com if she may assist you in any manner.
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