Picture this: The dust has settled, the property is divided, the visitation schedule is in place and the divorce is final. However, there is something wrong with this picture -- you are not waking up in your home with your own children every morning.
We interviewed dozens of women for our book, Love for Grown-Ups: The Garter Brides Guide to Marrying for Life When You've Already Got a Life, and they were generous and honest in talking about the challenge of shared child custody. Many of them and their exes were able to make it work for their children. Here are some practical suggestions that will help:
Make the phone call or skype visit count. Call or skype on predictable days and time. For instance, if you call them on Tuesday, then call them every Tuesday. Don't call or Skype your 2 ½ year old after 6 p.m. at night -- they are cranky, tired and unresponsive. (You might be, too!) And, for that matter, don't call your 15-year-old before 6 p.m. at night -- they are not even home yet or with their friends. Be OK with a 4-minute conversation -- for the average teenager, that is plenty. In other words, make it mutually convenient.
Use the mall or eCards. There are cards and eCard sites specifically designed for this situation. Sending something like "I love you," "How's it going?" or "Thinking of You" is a great way to let your children know they are always on your mind. Don't laugh, but balloons or flowers are a nice thing now and then, even for your son!
Get a photo opportunity. Your child will feel comfortable if you make the other parent "welcome" in your home. Allow your child to place a picture of the other parent in their room. Make an album of pictures and souvenirs of times you and your child have spent together. For instance, the tickets from a Universal theme park or a movie that you both loved seeing together.
Your child has enough "baggage." Your child should not have to bring pajamas, a toothbrush or a change of clothes when they come to your home. It should all be there. Bear in mind, a favorite stuffed animal or blanket is an exception and should go back and forth.
Is there a specific TV show they always watch? Or maybe a board game they like to play? Try to make these things a part of their stay with you. Activities like this can become mini-traditions -- things they can expect to do when they're with you and can look forward to.
They should know 'The Deal' at your home. If you have certain house rules, they should be laid out from the very beginning. Kids like structure and want to know what to expect. Think about this carefully, you don't want to do much, if any, changing of 'the rules' on them. Obviously, the expectations will change as your children change developmentally -- that's normal. Consistency is key.
Remember: No matter what, your home is their home, too.
How do you handle your child's shared custody arrangement? Do you have any special ideas?
Ann Blumenthal Jacobs, Patricia Lampl and Tish Rabe are the authors of Love for Grown-ups: The Garter Brides' Guide to Marrying for Life When You've Already Got a Life, a relationship guide for women over 35 on how to find Mr. Right, marry and find life-long happiness. The Garter Brides are a sisterhood of women who got married later in life and wore the same garter at their weddings! They offer tried and true advice on how to have the love and life you want.