If you’re separating or divorcing and you have a child, you’re likely writing a parenting plan.
You or your lawyer may use a template to guide your proposals.
It helps to be aware of modern parenting trends.
Modern Parenting Plan
What special provisions should you add? Times change, and so do habits and values. In 2022, spend a little time thinking about these modern parenting issues, and think about what’s best for your child’s future.
Birdnesting: Parents move back and forth, kids stay put
Baby birds live in the nest, and their parents fly back and forth to care for them. People, similarly, can let their child stay in their existing home instead of shuttling the child between homes as a result of their parent’s separation. These days, you may be hearing more about this option: birdnesting.
In your separation or divorce, birdnesting may be a useful strategy. Especially when you and the other parent live in different towns, letting the child stay in one place allows them to more easily keep up with school and friends. It helps them stay with their pets, too. You may reduce their stress by minimizing the disruption to the child’s life.
Besides, you and the other parent may need time to negotiate and decide what you’ll do with your old property. If you’re renters, maybe you’ll end your lease. If you’re owners, maybe you’ll sell or rent it out. Maybe you’ll keep the home so that one of you can live there permanently or so that you can birdnest until your child is grown. By finding new homes elsewhere but continuing to maintain the old home for your child, you and the other parent keep your options open.
Birdnesting isn’t for everyone. Some co-parents don’t want to share a living space even if they’re never in a room together at the same time, as they don’t want to see or be responsible for each other’s belongings or food. And depending on everyone’s personalities, interactions, and cooperation, birdnesting may not help the child to understand the finality of your separation.
Recognizing a child’s gender
Some children eventually ask their parents to change the way they perceive and treat them as a boy or girl. A son may want to be referred to as a daughter, or a daughter may want to be referred to as a son. The child may describe themselves with words like transgender or nonbinary in addition to, or instead of, boy or girl.
A child may ask for changes to their first name or nickname, their personal pronouns like “he” or “she,” their hair and clothes, and how they are grouped with boys and girls in activities. These behaviors and social interactions can affect how others identify the child’s gender overall, and the child may intend and appreciate this outcome.
It is also possible for doctors to delay hormonal puberty, giving a child extra time to choose their next steps. A child’s physical development today will contribute to how others perceive and assume their physical sex later in life.
Many parents today experience a child “coming out” to them. Some parents agree to recognize, in age-appropriate ways, any gender their child may assert. If you have shared values and practices, it’s important to put them in your parenting plan.
Find out your school district’s policies on acknowledging and including transgender and nonbinary students. You should also be aware of your state’s laws on gender transition and what a judge is likely to say. Across the US, this information is rapidly changing.
Adapting to pandemics and other health emergencies
Since the appearance of covid in 2020, schools may sometimes go virtual, workplaces may close, and people may reduce their overall face-to-face interactions. Caution about infection has always been part of the family routine for people with certain illnesses and disabilities, but, for most people, covid safety has required new learning and adaptation. This is a major preoccupation for modern parenting.
When you make a parenting plan, consider your expectations for individual and collective health protection. You’ll rest easier knowing you have an agreement for current and future health risks.
Answer these questions:
- Which parent will make medical decisions for the child?
- If you’ll make medical decisions together, do you agree to vaccinate your child? Which vaccines?
- Do you expect to follow the guidance of health authorities, e.g., regarding masks?
- What precautions should be part of daily life, e.g., not entering the home of someone who has a fever?
- Under what circumstances will you isolate yourself or your child to prevent the spread of disease?
- Under what circumstances will you consider homeschooling?
- What protective measures will you and the other parent follow when you exchange the child?
- Will there be any special considerations if one parent relocates, e.g., finding new doctors?
The laws around marijuana use are changing. By now, in 2022, most U.S. states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and three-quarters of the states allow its medicinal use with a doctor’s permission.
If you or the other parent use marijuana, you should set rules for your own homes. These could include:
- Not discussing marijuana around your child or using only specific vocabulary for it
- Not using marijuana immediately before or during your parenting time
- Not smoking marijuana indoors
- Locking the drawer where the marijuana is stored
When addiction is a concern, some parents use the parenting plan to establish expectations for their own healthcare, including drug testing and psychotherapy.
In thinking about this, take the opportunity to state your parenting rules about alcohol and drugs more broadly.
Be Thorough and Up-to-Date
The more thought and effort you put into your parenting plan, the clearer your shared understanding will be. A strong, modern parenting plan can reduce conflict and help you raise your child.