1. Separation and divorce means a new living situation and a new set of rules for everyone. Give yourself and your children a fair chance to adjust. Change doesn't happen overnight.
2. Kids need to know what to expect. Where will I be this weekend? Who will pick me up from soccer? Get a calendar, and mark down what the children will be doing each day, and post it in a prominent place in the house. Online calendars work great for this, too. There's even a company that will let you create a family calendar and database with info like the children's doctors and teachers, The most popular one is Our Family Wizard, but there are free options, too.
3. Be flexible. There will be a time when you need a favor, too.
4. Be dependable. Your children count on you to follow through with your promises to spend time with them.
5. Communicate with the other parent, and allow her or him to be involved in extra-curricular or social activities too. If the child has a birthday invitation during the other parent's time, pass along the invitation to the other parent promptly.
6. Don't schedule activities for the child during the other parent's time without discussing and agreeing upon the activity first. Kids are heartbroken when they let down their team, or the drama club, by missing a practice. Don't put them in the middle.
7. Don't make unkind remarks about the other parent in the child's presence. Your child loves both of you, and you hurt your child when you speak poorly of the other parent.
8. Don't make the child your messenger. If you have news to deliver, parenting time to schedule, or a check to drop off, do it yourself. Don't put your child in the middle.
9. Your child's needs will change over time. Be prepared to change, too, and to take his or her developmental needs and added maturity into account when reassessing your parenting plans.
10. Remember that your children are your children for the rest of your life, not just until they are 18. There's a lifetime of family activities that you'll want to attend, and the other parent will want to attend, too. Cultivate a relationship with your child's other parent such that you can be comfortable sitting in the same room for events like class plays, graduations or weddings. It's hard at first, but it will get easier over time.
Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin 2010) and Your Divorce Advisor (Simon & Schuster 2001) and a mediator at Peace Talks Mediation Services.