Stan and Arlene Wilson were great parents, just ask anyone who knew them. Their kids were always their first priority. If Abe, who participated in club soccer, had a summer practice or game scheduled the same week that the Wilsons were invited by family to the Cape for a week at the beach, the Wilsons never hesitated to in refusing the invitation. Abe’s commitment to the team came first. Likewise when it came to Amy’s involvement with her community drama troupe, the family would plan summer vacations around rehearsal and show weeks. Stan and Arlene would gladly forfeit recreation time, even work commitments, if the demands of the children’s schedules called for personal sacrifice.
No doubt about it the Wilsons were truly caring and involved parents. Yet despite their dedication to their children’s world and the close bonds they fostered, the Wilsons had serious problems with their own relationship. To be honest, the marriage had problems from the outset, problems that having children did not erase. While Stan and Arlene were united as a couple when it came to their children, parenting, they functioned much like single people in all other respects.
Not surprising to them, but clearly to those in the community who knew them, the Wilsons decided to divorce. It was not with anger, but with concern for how to maintain their children’s world after separation, which made them pause in reaching the major decision to separate. Each parent wanted the children to live with them; after all, each had sacrificed for their children’s well being and thus each felt deserving of having future control over the children’s lives. Bolstered by the evidence that each thought he or she could muster to support for entitlement to custodial superiority, Stan and Arlene agreed to seek the help of a child therapist. Each presented a (long) list of all that they do as a parent. But as each listened to the other speak, and, with a few questions here and there from the counselor, it became clear even to Stan and Arlene, that both were good parents, and that they had complementary talents and abilities from which the children benefitted. They realized that as parents anyway, they had more to offer as a pair than as solo practitioners. Thus, the Wilsons agreed to meet again for help in structuring a parenting plan for their children after separation.
The Wilsons are not that atypical. Many couples are good, even great parents, but not good marital partners. The decision to share custody felt right to both of them. Together they were a better team than apart. But how to make this work was a daunting question. Choosing mediation as the process for facilitating their divorce, they also looked to the mediator to help them fashion a shared custodial arrangement. The following questions are a sampling of those dealt with in mediation.
The parenting schedule included a division of time between each parent’s home. Using each parent’s present and projected availability of time and funds available, if needed, for supplementing parental responsibility for child care, a weekly parenting plan is fashioned. In addition, parents need to confront the sharing of holidays, vacations, and no school days. In effect, a calendar is fashioned, which may well include structure as well as flexibility. The validity of the calendar is dependent upon its attention to the children’s needs and each parent’s availability. Those who only focus only on achieving equality may well sacrifice the advantages of capitalizing on individual parental abilities and time available in order to make their plan work. In the final analysis, no family will benefit if their schedule results in the loss of employment or of income upon which the family is dependent.
Attention needs to be given to responsibilities that each parent will assume or that both parents will share.
Shopping for clothing and apparel and sports’ equipment
Contacts with individuals and services involved with the children (e.g., schools, counselors, coaches)
Researching and scheduling activities, camps, trips and the like
Attendance at children’s events
Creation of uniform household policies (e.g., television watching, meals, discipline, electronic usage, friendship, bedtimes)
Gift Giving: by parents to children and from children to friends and teachers
Access to relatives and friends of both parents
Telephone/electronic access to parent when with the other parent
Travel away from home with and without a parent
Children’s celebrations—birthdays, graduations, etc.
New parental relationships and involvement of children and the other parent
The list can go on and on. The key “take away” from each category is that shared custody requires parents to commit to working together for the welfare of their children and to put aside individual claims to parental superiority or time in order to make the total “package” work. The key ingredient is communication and sharing. It is imperative that parents create a shared calendar and communicate child-related issues and share child-related achievements. Neither parent is a sole voyager in a shared custodial arrangement. It takes two involved and open participants to focus on the best interests of the children. And, when this is done, you as parents have given your children a long-long gift of two loving, caring, involved parents.
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