Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care (NNCC). Oesterreich, L. (1996). Divorce matters series, Visitation dos and don'ts. [Pm 1641]. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension.
Divorce Matters - Contact Dos and Don'ts for both parents and children.
Contact is critical to maintaining a sense of connectedness both during and after a divorce. But in the early stages of family restructuring and co-parenting, it is frequently a source of conflict. If former spouses want revenge, finding ways to spoil a contact period is easy. If they want to help their children through a difficult transition, they will find ways to make contact successful. For contact to work, both parents need to accept and acknowledge that their children have two homes - one with their father and one with their mother.
Parents need to make sure that their children are safe and comfortable in both places, even if they don't spend equal time there. They need to help make the transition from one home to the other smooth and calm. They also need to make sure they are being consistent in rules and discipline.
Constructive parenting goals
The following guidelines are examples of parenting goals that can help children grow into healthy, happy, whole people.
· Both parents should encourage contact to help their children grow in positive ways.
· Children need to know it is OK to love both parents.
· In general, parents should treat each other with respect for their children's benefit.
· Each parent should respect the other's child-raising views by trying, when possible, to be consistent. For example, if one parent strongly opposes toy guns for small children, the other should take this into account when buying gifts.
· Each parent is entitled to know where the children are during contact periods. They should also know if the children are left with other people such as babysitters or friends when the other parent is not there.
· Parents should try to agree on their children's religious education, as well as who is responsible for overseeing it.
· Parents should tell each other their current addresses and home and work phone numbers.
· Both parents should realize that contact schedules may change as children age and their needs change.
Tips for Smooth Contact Periods
· Be as flexible as possible with schedules.
· Treat your former spouse with respect.
· Help children feel safe and comfortable in both homes.
· Develop routines to give children a sense of security.
· Maintain open communication lines with your former spouse.
· Don't question your children's loyalty.
· Help make the transition from one home to the other smooth and calm.
· Discuss rules and discipline with your former spouse so you are consistent.
· The following suggestions represent strategies parents can use to achieve parenting goals.
· Be flexible about visitation schedules.
· Give the other parent advance notice of changes in your schedule.
· Remember to give the other parent your holiday schedule in advance.
· Remember that your children may have plans that could affect your contact schedule.
· Make contact a normal part of life.
· Find activities that give you and your children an opportunity to build your relationship.
· Allow time together without planned activities just to "hang out."
· Provide a balance between fun and responsibility for your children.
· Encourage contact that includes grandparents and extended family.
· Make sure your children have their own places in your home even if it is just part of a room so they feel it is also their home.
· Help your children meet other kids in your neighbourhood so they have friends at both homes.
· Try to keep a routine schedule to help prepare your children for contact.
· Have a checklist of items such as clothing and toys that your children need to take on contact periods.
· If the children are old enough, they can help pack.
· If it's appropriate, allow your children to bring friends along occasionally.
· Spend individual time with each of your children.
· Show respect for your former spouse and concern for your children.
· Be on time.
· Inform your former spouse if a new person such as a babysitter or romantic partner will be part of the contact.
· Share changes in your address, home and work phone numbers, and in your job with your former spouse.
Some parents use contact to achieve destructive goals. These are goals based on revenge, such as one parent hurting the other or disrupting his or her life. To achieve those goals, parents may use destructive behaviours that can create a more hostile environment and seriously damage relationships. Destructive strategies can be deeply hurtful to children caught in the middle. The following are tips for avoiding destructive behaviour.
· Don't refuse to communicate with your former spouse.
· Don't use your children to relay divorce-related messages on issues such as child support. Those issues should be discussed by adults only.
· Don't make your children responsible for making, cancelling, or changing contact plans. Those are adult responsibilities.
· Don't use your children to spy on your former spouse.
· Don't fight with the other parent during drop-off and pickup times. Deal with important issues when your children cannot overhear.
· Don't disrupt your children's relationship with their other parent.
· Don't make your children feel guilty about spending time with their other parent.
· Don't use contact as a reward for good behaviour, and don't withhold it as punishment for poor behaviour.
· Don't tell your children you will feel lonely and sad if they visit their other parent.
· Don't withhold contact to punish your former spouse for problems such as missed child support payments. Withholding contact punishes your children, who are not guilty.
· Don't withhold contact because you feel your former spouse doesn't deserve to see the children. Unless a parent is a genuine threat, adults and children need to see each other.
· Don't use false abuse accusations to justify withholding contact.
· Don't let activities such as sports and hobbies interfere with the time your children spend with their other parent. Your former spouse can transport the children to those activities if needed and can sometimes participate.
· Don't pressure your children about leaving clothes or toys at their other parent's home. The children need to feel they belong in both places.
· Don't falsely claim that your children are sick to justify withholding contact.
· Don't withhold phone calls to your children from their other parent.
· Don't put down the other parent's new romantic partner.
· Don't allow your anger to affect your relationship with your children.
· Don't hurt your children by failing to show up for contact or by being late.
· Don't spoil your children to buy their loyalty and love.
· Don't let your children blackmail you by refusing to participate in contact unless you buy them something.
· Don't try to bribe your children.
· Don't feel you need to be your children's friend for contact to be successful. Your children need you to be a parent.
· Don't try to fill every minute of a visit. Allow some down time for routine activities such as cooking or laundry, or quiet time just to be together.
All of these contact don'ts undercut children's ability to develop an open and supportive relationship with both parents. One of the best ways to support children involved in a separation or divorce is to do what you can to make contact go smoothly. Focusing on contact dos is a first step in helping children adjust.