If you are a custodial parent, you may have conflict and disagreements with your ex-spouse. However, this does not mean that your child should not be involved with his or her other parent. Divorce ends a marriage, after all, not parenthood.
Why is it important that the noncustodial parent stay involved? First, as Frank Furstenberg and Christine Nord of the University of Pennsylvania found, most children view their noncustodial parent as significant in their lives. Second, a review by Paul Amato and Joan Gilbreth found that, in divorced families, children are generally better adjusted when they have a positive relationship with the noncustodial parent. And, as Mary F. Whiteside of the Ann Arbor Center for the Family found in her research, the more frequent the visitation between a noncustodial father and his child, the better the relationship. Third, if you are the custodial parent, your child’s visitation with your ex-spouse can allow you some free time – time to organize yourself, complete some tasks, and perhaps even relax. Fourth, more frequent contact with the noncustodial parent is related to more consistent child support payments, which itself is very important.
There are some conditions under which frequent contact may be less than beneficial for children. These conditions do not mean visitation should not occur; rather, these circumstances may need to be addressed so that visitation can be more pleasant and beneficial for a child.
Encourage your ex-spouse
Ex-spouses are often willing to spend time with their children but are uncertain about exactly what role to take after the divorce. If you are the custodial parent, you need to make sure your ex-spouse understands that he or she still plays very important role in your child’s life.
If you are the custodial parent, here are our recommendations on how to encourage your ex-spouse to spend time with your child:
Find the right balance
How can divorced parents arrange the right amount of contact between a child and the noncustodial parent? First, the legal arrangements of your divorce likely will specify the noncustodial parent’s time with the child. In ideal situations, this arrangement will be (or was) negotiated and acceptable to you, your ex-spouse, and your child. If needed, use a mediator to help find an arrangement agreeable to all. Second, for a very young child, more frequent short visits may be better initially than prolonged visits. For older children, let them have some input into the visitation schedule. Flexibility and creativity will be required with teenagers when contact with the noncustodial parent is considered.
The guiding principle should be the following: “What is in the best interest of your child?” Third – and this can be difficult – work cooperatively with your ex-spouse and your child. Take his or her needs, as well as yours, into account as visitation is arranged. Develop a predictable, but flexible, schedule. Allow flexibility to also accommodate your child’s activities: don’t drag him or her away from important activities in order to visit.
Here are some additional points:
Smooth out visitation transitions
Why do children have difficulty when making the transition from one parent to the other? The foremost answer is that when parents are actively engaged in conflict with each other, children display more problems. Think about it for a moment: you and your ex-spouse may interact with each other only during times of switching your child from one home to the other. As a result, he or she sees the two of you together only at these times. If you spend this time fighting over issues like visitation and money, your child soon comes to expect the switch from one parent to the other to be loaded with conflict. As a consequence, it is not surprising that your child might display symptoms of distress.
Another reason making the transition from one parent to the other may be difficult for your child is the change that occurs as he or she moves from one home to the other. Even if parents strive for consistency between their homes, there will be differences. It sometimes takes children a while to adjust to different parenting styles, rules, and surroundings. Many children have a particularly difficult time when they eturn from a weekend visit. Such postweekend difficulties are sometimes referred to as “reentry problems.” Switching at this time is often made more difficult by the child having to return to the reality of regular life (e.g., school night) from a relatively unstructured time over the weekend.
Children also may have difficulty with switchovers due to uncertainties. If your child, particularly if he is young, is unsure of when he will be with each parent, how long he will be with that parent, and exactly when and where he will be picked up when time with a parent ends, he may experience anxiety and distress. Be sure to tell your child, very clearly, all the details of the visitation schedule.
Switchover sites should be determined, first, by the needs of your child and, second, by the preferences of you as parents. If you and your ex-spouse frequently engage in open, hostile conflict, you are probably better off having the switchover take place in a public setting where the two of you are less likely to lose your tempers or someplace where there is little or no contact between the two of you. For example, one of you can drop your child off at a grandparent’s house or at an after-school activity and the other spouse can pick him up there.
Here are some additional recommendations for making visitation transitions smooth:
This article was adapted and excerpted from the book Making Divorce Easier on Your Child: 50 Effective Ways to Help Children Adjust by Nicholas Long and Rex Forehand. The authors, well-respected psychologists and best-selling authors of Parenting the Strong-Willed Child, draw on the most recent research into children and divorce as well as their own clinical experience to provide proven strategies for helping children adjust after divorce. Reprinted with permission from the publisher, McGraw-Hill.