"Visiting". It's a word that many parents and professionals have come to hate. The non-custodial parent is given "visitation" with his or her kids. For years, that translated into every other weekend and some holidays. Meanwhile, the other parent had full responsibility and the full measure of the pleasures and pains of watching children grow the other two-thirds of the year.
Over the last few decades, custody arrangements have loosened up, with parents sharing custody and kids going back and forth every few days, or every other week, or being with one or the other parent in some other creative arrangement that feels more equitable.
But the truth is that kids often don't perceive the "fairness" in quite the same way. For them, the time they spend with each parent is artificially limited by time, agreements and schedules. They can't count on seeing both parents in the daily casual fly-bys that happen when people share the same home every day. They can't take it for granted that they'll can continue a conversation or revisit an argument later in the day.
Divorced parents can make it easier for the kids. Being a part time parent doesn't have to mean you aren't present in their lives in a full-time kind of way. Staying close to your children when there are periods of absence can be done with some planning and care.
- If possible, live close to each other. Kids who do especially well are those who can move easily back and forth between their two homes. Kids who can walk or bike to the other parent are kids who have more choice in when they see their folks. The packing up at the end of their time in each home becomes far less frantic because they know they can always walk over to retrieve what was accidentally left behind.
- Kids do better when they know what to expect. Set up a schedule to provide predictability. Maybe it's Monday through Wednesday at my house, Thursday through Friday at yours and shared weekends. Put it on a calendar at each house so the kids can refer to it easily. Stick to it the best you can.
- But also be flexible. Be willing to change the schedule in response to kids' needs (a performance, a visit from a relative, the need to work on a project) and to the other parent's genuine childcare crunches (like a business trip that happens on "their" time or their need to go be with a sick elder). When parents can be supportive of each other as parents, kids don't feel torn between them.
- Arrange for a daily check-in with each child to hear the news of the day. Check on how that book report is coming along or whether they are practicing their band instrument. Some parents are now even using Skype to read a bedtime story to young children.
- Skype, text, email or facebook message. The wonderful thing about the age of electronics is that support messages and news can be delivered without being intrusive. A random sharing of things that interest your son or daughter, a reminder of what you're planning for the next visit, a quick "Hi" or "Thinking of you" keeps you present regardless of geography.